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  1. The acoustic environment an animal experiences early in life shapes the structure and function of its auditory system. This process of experience-dependent development is thought to be primarily orchestrated by potentiation and depression of synapses, but plasticity of intrinsic voltage dynamics may also contribute. Here, we show that in juvenile male and female zebra finches, neurons in a cortical-level auditory area, the caudal mesopallium (CM), can rapidly change their firing dynamics. This plasticity was only observed in birds that were reared in a complex acoustic and social environment, which also caused increased expression of the low-threshold potassium channel Kv1.1 in the plasma membrane and endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Intrinsic plasticity depended on activity, was reversed by blocking low-threshold potassium currents, and was prevented by blocking intracellular calcium signaling. Taken together, these results suggest that Kv1.1 is rapidly mobilized to the plasma membrane by activity-dependent elevation of intracellular calcium. This produces a shift in the excitability and temporal integration of CM neurons that may be permissive for auditory learning in complex acoustic environments during a crucial period for the development of vocal perception and production.

    SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTNeurons can change not only the strength of their connections to other neurons, but also how they integrate synaptic currents to produce patterns of action potentials. In contrast to synaptic plasticity, the mechanisms and functional roles of intrinisic plasticity remain poorly understood. We found that neurons in the zebra finch auditory cortex can rapidly shift their spiking dynamics within a few minutes in response to intracellular stimulation. This plasticity involves increased conductance of a low-threshold potassium current associated with the Kv1.1 channel, but it only occurs in birds reared in a rich acoustic environment. Thus, auditory experience regulates a mechanism of neural plasticity that allows neurons to rapidly adapt their firing dynamics to stimulation.

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  2. Graham, Lyle J. (Ed.)
    Neurons exhibit diverse intrinsic dynamics, which govern how they integrate synaptic inputs to produce spikes. Intrinsic dynamics are often plastic during development and learning, but the effects of these changes on stimulus encoding properties are not well known. To examine this relationship, we simulated auditory responses to zebra finch song using a linear-dynamical cascade model, which combines a linear spectrotemporal receptive field with a dynamical, conductance-based neuron model, then used generalized linear models to estimate encoding properties from the resulting spike trains. We focused on the effects of a low-threshold potassium current (K LT ) that is present in a subset of cells in the zebra finch caudal mesopallium and is affected by early auditory experience. We found that K LT affects both spike adaptation and the temporal filtering properties of the receptive field. The direction of the effects depended on the temporal modulation tuning of the linear (input) stage of the cascade model, indicating a strongly nonlinear relationship. These results suggest that small changes in intrinsic dynamics in tandem with differences in synaptic connectivity can have dramatic effects on the tuning of auditory neurons. 
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