Attention is essential for navigating complex acoustic scenes, when the listener seeks to extract a foreground source while suppressing background acoustic clutter. This study explored the neural correlates of this perceptual ability by measuring rapid changes of spectrotemporal receptive fields (STRFs) in primary auditory cortex during detection of a target tone embedded in noise. Compared with responses in the passive state, STRF gain decreased during task performance in most cells. By contrast, STRF shape changes were excitatory and specific, and were strongest in cells with best frequencies near the target tone. The net effect of these adaptations was to accentuate the representation of the target tone relative to the noise by enhancing responses of near-target cells to the tone during high-signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) tasks while suppressing responses of far-from-target cells to the masking noise in low-SNR tasks. These adaptive STRF changes were largest in high-performance sessions, confirming a close correlation with behavior.
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