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Sci Rep. 2017 Aug 22;7(1):9069. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-09181-6.

The influence of vision on tactile Hebbian learning.

Kuehn E1,2,3, Doehler J4,5, Pleger B4,6.

Author information

Department of Neurology, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, 04103, Germany.
Center for Behavioral and Brain Sciences Magdeburg, Magdeburg, 39106, Germany.
Aging and Cognition Research Group, DZNE, Magdeburg, 39106, Germany.
Department of Neurology, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, 04103, Germany.
Institute of Psychology, Leipzig University, 04109, Leipzig, Germany.
Department of Neurology, BG University Hospital Bergmannsheil, Ruhr-University Bochum, Bochum, 44789, Germany.


NMDA-dependent Hebbian learning drives neuronal plasticity in different cortical areas, and across species. In the primary somatosensory cortex (S-I), Hebbian learning is induced via the persistent low-rate afferent stimulation of a small area of skin. In particular, plasticity is induced in superficial cortical layers II/III of the S-I cortex that represents the stimulated area of skin. Here, we used the model system of NMDA-dependent Hebbian learning to investigate the influence of non-afferent (visual) input on Hebbian plasticity in S-I. We induced Hebbian learning in 48 participants by applying 3 hours of tactile coactivation to the right index fingertip via small loudspeaker membranes. During coactivation, different groups viewed either touches to individual fingers, which is known to activate S-I receptive fields, touches to an object, which should not activate S-I receptive fields, or no touch at all. Our results show that coactivation significantly lowers tactile spatial discrimination thresholds at the stimulated finger post- versus pre-training across groups. However, we did not find evidence for a significant modulatory effect of visual condition on tactile spatial discrimination performance. This suggests that non-afferent (visual) signals do not interact with Hebbian learning in superficial cortical layers of S-I, but may integrate into deeper cortical layers instead.

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