Esther Yu is a junior with studying Neuroscience. She works under the mentorship of Dr. Takesian, Mass Eye and Ear on examining the role of cortical layer 1 interneurons in auditory perception
My project aims to better understand how Layer 1 interneurons shape auditory perception. A major part of auditory perception is auditory discrimination, which is the ability to distinguish between different sounds. We are primarily interested in Layer 1 (L1) of the primary auditory cortex because it has been shown to be involved in the integration of sensory and behavioral input.
To better understand how Layer 1 interneurons shape auditory perception, we developed a behavioral paradigm to measure auditory perception in mice using a head-fixed frequency discrimination task—requiring mice to distinguish between target stimuli and non-target stimuli. Preliminary results show that reliable discrimination thresholds can be obtained from mice (N=4) in under two weeks of training. And our imaging experiments using 2-photon calcium imaging have already found that L1 neurons respond positively and selectively to different sound frequencies. In the coming weeks, we will start imaging the mice during training, and our project will be among the first to characterize L1 interneuron activity in behaving mice, which will determine when these cells are active during behavior and whether they undergo plasticity during learning. Together, these studies may shed light on potential therapeutic treatments aimed at enhancing auditory perception and learning.
On a personal note, this research has truly impacted my academic career for the better. I came into the lab of Dr. Anne Takesian as a psychology major, but switched my concentration to neuroscience after engaging deeply with this realm of research. I now plan on writing my senior thesis about the role of cortical layer 1 interneurons in auditory perceptual discrimination, and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful for where this research and my mentors have led me.