Changes in S1 neural responses during tactile discrimination learning.
In freely moving rats that are actively performing a discrimination task, single-unit responses in primary somatosensory cortex (S1) are strikingly different from responses to comparable tactile stimuli in immobile rats. For example, in the active discrimination context prestimulus response modulations are common, responses are longer in duration and more likely to be inhibited. To determine whether these differences emerge as rats learned a whisker-dependent discrimination task, we recorded single-unit S1 activity while rats learned to discriminate aperture-widths using their whiskers. Even before discrimination training began, S1 responses in freely moving rats showed many of the signatures of active responses, such as increased duration of response and prestimulus response modulations. As rats subsequently learned the discrimination task, single unit responses changed: more cortical units responded to the stimuli, neuronal sensory responses grew in duration, and individual neurons better predicted aperture-width. In summary, the operant behavioral context changes S1 tactile responses even in the absence of tactile discrimination, whereas subsequent width discrimination learning refines the S1 representation of aperture-width.
Wiest, MC; Thomson, E; Pantoja, J; Nicolelis, MAL
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