Michael Wehr

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
Member, ION

Ph.D. California Institute of Technology
Sc.B. Brown University

LISB 213
LISB 203-206


Research Interests: How local circuits in the auditory cortex encode and transform sensory information

Overview: We study how local circuits in the cerebral cortex encode and transform sensory information. We use the rodent auditory cortex as a model system to investigate how cellular and network properties shape cortical responses to a continuous and temporally complex stream of sensory data. Research in my laboratory combines aspects of both cellular, systems, and computational neuroscience, by using the tools of molecular biology and cellular physiology to address systems-level questions. By using a variety of electrophysiological approaches, in particular in vivo whole cell recording methods in combination with molecular manipulations, we are trying to identify the cellular and synaptic mechanisms with which cortical circuits process auditory information, leading ultimately to our perceptual experiences of acoustic streams, such as music and speech.


Front Neural Circuits. 2021 Apr 7;15:618881. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2021.618881. eCollection 2021.


Movement has a prominent impact on activity in sensory cortex, but has opposing effects on visual and auditory cortex. Both cortical areas feature a vasoactive intestinal peptide-expressing (VIP) disinhibitory circuit, which in visual cortex contributes to the effect of running. In auditory cortex, however, the role of VIP circuitry in running effects remains poorly understood. Running and optogenetic VIP activation are known to differentially modulate sound-evoked activity in auditory cortex, but it is unknown how these effects vary across cortical layers, and whether laminar differences in the roles of VIP circuitry could contribute to the substantial diversity that has been observed in the effects of both movement and VIP activation. Here we asked whether VIP neurons contribute to the effects of running, across the layers of auditory cortex. We found that both running and optogenetic activation of VIP neurons produced diverse changes in the firing rates of auditory cortical neurons, but with distinct effects on spontaneous and evoked activity and with different patterns across cortical layers. On average, running increased spontaneous firing rates but decreased evoked firing rates, resulting in a reduction of the neuronal encoding of sound. This reduction in sound encoding was observed in all cortical layers, but was most pronounced in layer 2/3. In contrast, VIP activation increased both spontaneous and evoked firing rates, and had no net population-wide effect on sound encoding, but strongly suppressed sound encoding in layer 4 narrow-spiking neurons. These results suggest that VIP activation and running act independently, which we then tested by comparing the arithmetic sum of the two effects measured separately to the actual combined effect of running and VIP activation, which were closely matched. We conclude that the effects of locomotion in auditory cortex are not mediated by the VIP network.

PMID:33897378 | PMC:PMC8058405 | DOI:10.3389/fncir.2021.618881