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Nat Neurosci. 2011 Nov 20;15(1):155-61. doi: 10.1038/nn.2966.

Bidirectional plasticity of cortical pattern recognition and behavioral sensory acuity.

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Emotional Brain Institute, Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, Orangeburg, New York, USA.


Learning to adapt to a complex and fluctuating environment requires the ability to adjust neural representations of sensory stimuli. Through pattern completion processes, cortical networks can reconstruct familiar patterns from degraded input patterns, whereas pattern separation processes allow discrimination of even highly overlapping inputs. Here we show that the balance between pattern separation and completion is experience dependent. Rats given extensive training with overlapping complex odorant mixtures showed improved behavioral discrimination ability and enhanced piriform cortical ensemble pattern separation. In contrast, behavioral training to disregard normally detectable differences between overlapping mixtures resulted in impaired piriform cortical ensemble pattern separation (enhanced pattern completion) and impaired discrimination. This bidirectional effect was not found in the olfactory bulb; it may be due to plasticity within olfactory cortex itself. Thus pattern recognition, and the balance between pattern separation and completion, is highly malleable on the basis of task demands and occurs in concert with changes in perceptual performance.

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