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J Neurosci. 2009 Dec 16;29(50):15898-909. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1949-09.2009.

Auditory cortical activity after intracortical microstimulation and its role for sensory processing and learning.

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Leibniz-Institute for Neurobiology, D-39118 Magdeburg, Germany.


Several studies have shown that animals can learn to make specific use of intracortical microstimulation (ICMS) of sensory cortex within behavioral tasks. Here, we investigate how the focal, artificial activation by ICMS leads to a meaningful, behaviorally interpretable signal. In natural learning, this involves large-scale activity patterns in widespread brain-networks. We therefore trained gerbils to discriminate closely neighboring ICMS sites within primary auditory cortex producing evoked responses largely overlapping in space. In parallel, during training, we recorded electrocorticograms (ECoGs) at high spatial resolution. Applying a multivariate classification procedure, we identified late spatial patterns that emerged with discrimination learning from the ongoing poststimulus ECoG. These patterns contained information about the preceding conditioned stimulus, and were associated with a subsequent correct behavioral response by the animal. Thereby, relevant pattern information was mainly carried by neuron populations outside the range of the lateral spatial spread of ICMS-evoked cortical activation (approximately 1.2 mm). This demonstrates that the stimulated cortical area not only encoded information about the stimulation sites by its focal, stimulus-driven activation, but also provided meaningful signals in its ongoing activity related to the interpretation of ICMS learned by the animal. This involved the stimulated area as a whole, and apparently required large-scale integration in the brain. However, ICMS locally interfered with the ongoing cortical dynamics by suppressing pattern formation near the stimulation sites. The interaction between ICMS and ongoing cortical activity has several implications for the design of ICMS protocols and cortical neuroprostheses, since the meaningful interpretation of ICMS depends on this interaction.

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