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Sensory gating is a process by which the brain adjusts its response to stimuli. It is a largely automatic process.
When one stimulus is presented, there is a response. But when it is followed by a second stimulus soon after, the response to the second stimulus is blunted. This is an adaptive mechanism to prevent overstimulation. It helps to focus on a stimulus among a host of other distracing stimuli.
The mechanism of sensory gating involves feed-forward and feed-back inhibition of the stimulus perceived. It involves GABA-ergic and α7 nicotinergic receptor-mediated inhibiton of the pyramidal neurons in the cornu ammonis (CA3) region of the hippocampus.
Sensory gating is thought to be disturbed in Schizophrenia. Because the nicotinergic receptors mediate sensory gating, smoking cigarettes, which excites nicotinergic receptors, ameliorates symptoms of auditory hallucinations in many patients with schizophrenia.
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