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J Neurosci. 1994 Nov;14(11 Pt 2):6978-91.

An innocuous bias in whisker use in adult rats modifies receptive fields of barrel cortex neurons.

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Department of Physiology, Queen Mary Westfield College, London University, United Kingdom.


The effect of innocuously biasing the flow of sensory activity from the whiskers for periods of 3-30 d in awake, behaving adult rats on the receptive field organization of rat SI barrel cortex neurons was studied. One pair of adjacent whiskers, D2 and either D1 or D3, remained intact unilaterally (whisker pairing), all others being trimmed throughout the period of altered sensation. Receptive fields of single cells in the contralateral D2 barrel were analyzed under urethane anesthesia by peristimulus time histogram (PSTH) and latency histogram analysis after 3, 7-10, and 30 d of pairing and compared with controls, testing all whiskers cut to the same length. Response magnitudes to surround receptive field in-row whiskers D1 and D3 were not significantly different for control animals. The same was found for surround in-arc whiskers C2 and E2. However, after 3 d of whisker pairing a profound bias occurred in response to the paired D-row surround whisker relative to the opposite trimmed surround D-row whisker and to the C2 and E2 whiskers. This bias increased with the duration of pairing, regardless of which surround whisker (D1 or D3) was paired with D2. For all three periods of pairing the mean response to the paired surround whisker was increased relative to controls, but peaked at 7-10 d. Response to the principal center-receptive (D2) whisker was increased for the 3 and 7-10 d groups and then decreased at 30 d. Responses to trimmed arc surround whiskers (C2 and E2) were decreased in proportion to the duration of changed experience. Analysis of PSTH data showed that earliest discharges (5-10 msec poststimulus) to the D2 whisker increased progressively in magnitude with duration of pairing. For the paired surround whisker similar early discharges newly appeared after 30 d of pairing. At 3 and 7-10 d of pairing, increases in response to paired whiskers and decreases to cut surround whiskers were confined to late portions of the PSTH (10-100 msec poststimulus). Changes at 3-10 d can be attributed to alterations in intracortical synaptic relay between barrels. Longer-term changes in response to both paired whisker inputs (30 d) largely appear to reflect increases in thalamocortical synaptic efficacy. Our findings suggest that novel innocuous somatosensory experiences produce changes in the receptive field configuration of cortical cells that are consistent with Hebbian theories of experience-dependent potentiation and weakening of synaptic efficacy within SI neocortical circuitry, for correlated and uncorrelated sensory inputs, respectively.

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