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J Neurosci. 1999 Jun 15;19(12):5131-7.

Vibrissae-evoked behavior and conditioning before functional ontogeny of the somatosensory vibrissae cortex.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma 73019, USA.


The following experiments determined that the somatosensory whisker system is functional and capable of experience-dependent behavioral plasticity in the neonate before functional maturation of the somatosensory whisker cortex. First, unilateral whisker stimulation caused increased behavioral activity in both postnatal day (P) 3-4 and P8 pups, whereas stimulation-evoked cortical activity (14C 2-deoxyglucose autoradiography) was detectable only in P8 pups. Second, neonatal rat pups are capable of forming associations between whisker stimulation and a reinforcer. A classical conditioning paradigm (P3-P4) showed that the learning groups (paired whisker stimulation-shock or paired whisker stimulation-warm air stream) exhibited significantly higher behavioral responsiveness to whisker stimulation than controls. Finally, stimulus-evoked somatosensory cortical activity during testing [P8; using 14C 2-deoxyglucose (2-DG) autoradiography] was assessed after somatosensory conditioning from P1-P8. No learning-associated differences in stimulus-evoked cortical activity were detected between learning and nonlearning control groups. Together, these experiments demonstrate that the whisker system is functional in neonates and capable of experience-dependent behavioral plasticity. Furthermore, in contrast to adult somatosensory classical conditioning, these data suggest that the cortex is not required for associative somatosensory learning in neonates.

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