Sleep Differentially Affects Early and Late Neuronal Responses to Sounds in Auditory and Perirhinal Cortices

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A fundamental feature of sleep is reduced behavioral responsiveness to external events, but the extent of processing along sensory pathways remains poorly understood. While responses are comparable across wakefulness and sleep in auditory cortex (AC), neuronal activity in downstream regions remains unknown. Here we recorded spiking activity in 435 neuronal clusters evoked by acoustic stimuli in the perirhinal cortex (PRC) and in AC of freely behaving male rats across wakefulness and sleep. Neuronal responses in AC showed modest (~10%) differences in response gain across vigilance states, replicating previous studies. By contrast, PRC neuronal responses were robustly attenuated by 47% and 36% during NREM sleep and REM sleep, respectively. Beyond the separation according to cortical region, response latency in each neuronal cluster was correlated with the degree of NREM sleep attenuation, such that late (>40 ms) responses in all monitored regions diminished during NREM sleep. The robust attenuation of late responses prevalent in PRC represents a novel neural correlate of sensory disconnection during sleep, opening new avenues for investigating the mediating mechanisms.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Reduced behavioral responsiveness to sensory stimulation is at the core of sleep’s definition, but it is still unclear how the sleeping brain responds differently to sensory stimuli. In the current study, we recorded neuronal spiking responses to sounds along the cortical processing hierarchy of rats during wakefulness and natural sleep. Responses in auditory cortex only showed modest changes during sleep, whereas sleep robustly attenuated the responses of neurons in high-level perirhinal cortex. We also found that, during NREM sleep, the response latency predicts the degree of sleep attenuation in individual neurons above and beyond their anatomical location. These results provide anatomical and temporal signatures of sensory disconnection during sleep and pave the way to understanding the underlying mechanisms.

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