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Using predictions based on environmental regularities is fundamental for adaptive behavior. While it is widely accepted that predictions across different stimulus attributes (e.g., time and content) facilitate sensory processing, it is unknown whether predictions across these attributes rely on the same neural mechanism. Here, to elucidate the neural mechanisms of predictions, we combine invasive electrophysiological recordings (human electrocorticography in 4 females and 2 males) with computational modeling while manipulating predictions about content ("what") and time ("when"). We found that "when" predictions increased evoked activity over motor and prefrontal regions both at early (∼180 ms) and late (430-450 ms) latencies. "What" predictability, however, increased evoked activity only over prefrontal areas late in time (420-460 ms). Beyond these dissociable influences, we found that "what" and "when" predictability interactively modulated the amplitude of early (165 ms) evoked responses in the superior temporal gyrus. We modeled the observed neural responses using biophysically realistic neural mass models, to better understand whether "what" and "when" predictions tap into similar or different neurophysiological mechanisms. Our modeling results suggest that "what" and "when" predictability rely on complementary neural processes: "what" predictions increased short-term plasticity in auditory areas, whereas "when" predictability increased synaptic gain in motor areas. Thus, content and temporal predictions engage complementary neural mechanisms in different regions, suggesting domain-specific prediction signaling along the cortical hierarchy. Encoding predictions through different mechanisms may endow the brain with the flexibility to efficiently signal different sources of predictions, weight them by their reliability, and allow for their encoding without mutual interference.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Predictions of different stimulus features facilitate sensory processing. However, it is unclear whether predictions of different attributes rely on similar or different neural mechanisms. By combining invasive electrophysiological recordings of cortical activity with experimental manipulations of participants' predictions about content and time of acoustic events, we found that the two types of predictions had dissociable influences on cortical activity, both in terms of the regions involved and the timing of the observed effects. Further, our biophysical modeling analysis suggests that predictability of content and time rely on complementary neural processes: short-term plasticity in auditory areas and synaptic gain in motor areas, respectively. This suggests that predictions of different features are encoded with complementary neural mechanisms in different brain regions.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





8680 - 8693


associative learning, biophysical modeling, electrocorticography, prediction, predictive coding