Hebbian-like functional plasticity in the auditory cortex of the behaving monkey

Ehud Ahissar*, Moshe Abeles, Merav Ahissar, Sebastian Haidarliu, Eilon Vaadia

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


In this study, the necessary conditions, including those related to behavior, for lasting modifications to occur in correlated activity ('functional plasticity') were examined in the behaving monkey. Previously, in-vitro studies of neuronal plasticity yielded important information about possible mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, but could not be used to test their functionality in the intact, behaving brain. In-vivo studies usually focused on analysis of the responsiveness of single cells, but did not examine interactions between pairs of neurons. In this study, we combined the two approaches. This was achieved by recording extracellularly and simultaneously the spike activity of several single cells in the auditory cortex of the behaving monkey. The efficacy of neuronal interactions was estimated by measuring the correlation between firing times of pairs of single neurons. Using acoustic stimuli, a version of cellular conditioning was applied when the monkey performed an auditory discrimination task and when it did not. We found that: (i) functional plasticity is a function of the change in correlation, and not of the correlation or covariance per se, and (ii) functional plasticity depends critically on behavior. During behavior, an increase in the correlation caused a short-lasting strengthening of the neuronal coupling efficacy, and a decrease caused a short-lasting weakening. These findings indicate that neuronal plasticity in the auditory cortex obeys a version of Hebb's associative rule under strong behavioral control, as predicted by Thorndike's 'Law of Effect'.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)633-655
Number of pages23
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - 5 Apr 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank Amos Arieli, Hagai Bergman, Yizhar Lavner, Eyal Margalit, Benny Carmon, and Israel Nelken for their help during the experiments; Ad Aertsen and Daniel Shulz for helpful discussions; and B. Schick for reviewing the manuscript. This study was supported in part by Grant No. 93-198 from the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation, Jerusalem, Israel.


  • Attention
  • Cellular conditioning
  • Cross-correlation
  • Functionl connection
  • Learning rule
  • Neuronal plasticity


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