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Prog Neurobiol. 2013 Apr;103:115-30. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2012.01.006. Epub 2012 Jan 28.

Insights into cortical mechanisms of behavior from microstimulation experiments.

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Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, 220 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Even the simplest behaviors depend on a large number of neurons that are distributed across many brain regions. Because electrical microstimulation can change the activity of localized subsets of neurons, it has provided valuable evidence that specific neurons contribute to particular behaviors. Here we review what has been learned about cortical function from behavioral studies using microstimulation in animals and humans. Experiments that examine how microstimulation affects the perception of stimuli have shown that the effects of microstimulation are usually highly specific and can be related to the stimuli preferred by neurons at the stimulated site. Experiments that ask subjects to detect cortical microstimulation in the absence of other stimuli have provided further insights. Although subjects typically can detect microstimulation of primary sensory or motor cortex, they are generally unable to detect stimulation of most of cortex without extensive practice. With practice, however, stimulation of any part of cortex can become detected. These training effects suggest that some patterns of cortical activity cannot be readily accessed to guide behavior, but that the adult brain retains enough plasticity to learn to process novel patterns of neuronal activity arising anywhere in cortex.

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