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Neural adaptation is central to sensation. Neurons in auditory midbrain, for example, rapidly adapt their firing rates to enhance coding precision of common sound intensities. However, it remains unknown whether this adaptation is fixed, or dynamic and dependent on experience. Here, using guinea pigs as animal models, we report that adaptation accelerates when an environment is re-encountered-in response to a sound environment that repeatedly switches between quiet and loud, midbrain neurons accrue experience to find an efficient code more rapidly. This phenomenon, which we term meta-adaptation, suggests a top-down influence on the midbrain. To test this, we inactivate auditory cortex and find acceleration of adaptation with experience is attenuated, indicating a role for cortex-and its little-understood projections to the midbrain-in modulating meta-adaptation. Given the prevalence of adaptation across organisms and senses, meta-adaptation might be similarly common, with extensive implications for understanding how neurons encode the rapidly changing environments of the real world.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Acoustic Stimulation, Adaptation, Physiological, Animals, Auditory Cortex, Auditory Pathways, Auditory Perception, Female, Guinea Pigs, Hypothermia, Induced, Male, Mesencephalon, Models, Animal, Neurons