Receptive field reorganization in dorsal column nuclei during temporary denervation

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Science  24 Dec 1993:
Vol. 262, Issue 5142, pp. 2054-2056
DOI: 10.1126/science.8266104


Altered sensory input can result in the reorganization of somatosensory maps in the cerebral cortex and thalamus, but the extent to which reorganization occurs at lower levels of the somatosensory system is unknown. In cat dorsal column nuclei (DCN), the injection of local anesthetic into the receptive fields of DCN neurons resulted in the emergence of a new receptive field in all 13 neurons studied. New receptive fields emerged rapidly (within minutes), sometimes accompanied by changes in adaptation rates and stimulus selectivity, suggesting that the new fields arose from the unmasking of previously ineffective inputs. Receptive field reorganization was not imposed by descending cortical inputs to the DCN, because comparable results were obtained in 10 additional cells when the somatosensory and motor cortex were removed before recording. These results suggest that mechanisms underlying somatotopic reorganization exist at the earliest stages of somatosensory processing. Such mechanisms may participate in adaptive responses of the nervous system to injury or continuously changing sensory stimulation.