Cortical Map Reorganization Enabled by Nucleus Basalis Activity

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Science  13 Mar 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5357, pp. 1714-1718
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5357.1714

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Little is known about the mechanisms that allow the cortex to selectively improve the neural representations of behaviorally important stimuli while ignoring irrelevant stimuli. Diffuse neuromodulatory systems may facilitate cortical plasticity by acting as teachers to mark important stimuli. This study demonstrates that episodic electrical stimulation of the nucleus basalis, paired with an auditory stimulus, results in a massive progressive reorganization of the primary auditory cortex in the adult rat. Receptive field sizes can be narrowed, broadened, or left unaltered depending on specific parameters of the acoustic stimulus paired with nucleus basalis activation. This differential plasticity parallels the receptive field remodeling that results from different types of behavioral training. This result suggests that input characteristics may be able to drive appropriate alterations of receptive fields independently of explicit knowledge of the task. These findings also suggest that the basal forebrain plays an active instructional role in representational plasticity.

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