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Nature. 1993 Feb 11;361(6412):533-6.

Induction of immediate spatiotemporal changes in thalamic networks by peripheral block of ascending cutaneous information.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Hahnemann University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102-1192.


Peripheral sensory deprivation induces reorganization within the somatosensory cortex of adult animals. Although most studies have focused on the somatosensory cortex, changes at subcortical levels (for example the thalamus) could also play a fundamental role in sensory plasticity. To investigate this, we made chronic simultaneous recordings of large numbers of single neurons across the ventral posterior medial thalamus (VPM) in adult rats. This allowed a continuous and quantitative evaluation of the receptive fields of the same sample of single VPM neurons per animal, before and after sensory deprivation. Local anaesthesia in the face induced an immediate and reversible reorganization of a large portion of the VPM map. This differentially affected the short latency (4-6 ms) responses (SLRs) and long latency (15-25 ms) responses (LLRs) of single VPM neurons. The SLRs and LLRs normally define spatiotemporally complex receptive fields in the VPM. Here we report that 73% of single neurons whose original receptive fields included the anaesthetized zone showed immediate unmasking of SLRs in response to stimulation of adjacent cutaneous regions, and/or loss of SLRs with preservation or enhancement of LLRs in response to stimulation of regions just surrounding the anaesthetized zone. This thalamic reorganization demonstrates that peripheral sensory deprivation may induce immediate plastic changes at multiple levels of the somatosensory system. Further, its spatiotemporally complex character suggests a disruption of the normal dynamic equilibrium between multiple ascending and descending influences on the VPM.

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