Introduction to special issue

Development and Plasticity of Cortical Processing Architectures

Science  03 Nov 1995:
Vol. 270, Issue 5237, pp. 758-764
DOI: 10.1126/science.270.5237.758


One of the basic functions of the cerebral cortex is the analysis and representation of relations among the components of sensory and motor patterns. It is proposed that the cortex applies two complementary strategies to cope with the combinatorial problem posed by the astronomical number of possible relations: (i) the analysis and representation of frequently occurring, behaviorally relevant relations by groups of cells with fixed but broadly tuned response properties; and (ii) the dynamic association of these cells into functionally coherent assemblies. Feedforward connections and reciprocal associative connections, respectively, are thought to underlie these two operations. The architectures of both types of connections are susceptible to experience-dependent modifications during development, but they become fixed in the adult. As development proceeds, feedforward connections also appear to lose much of their functional plasticity, whereas the synapses of the associative connections retain a high susceptibility to use-dependent modifications. The reduced plasticity of feedforward connections is probably responsible for the invariance of cognitive categories acquired early in development. The persistent adaptivity of reciprocal connections is a likely substrate for the ability to generate representations for new perceptual objects and motor patterns throughout life.

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