Enhanced excitability of the human visual cortex induced by short-term light deprivation

Cereb Cortex. 2000 May;10(5):529-34. doi: 10.1093/cercor/10.5.529.


Long-term deprivation of visual input for several days or weeks leads to marked changes in the excitability and function of the occipital cortex. The time course of these changes is poorly understood. In this study, we addressed the question whether a short period of light deprivation (minutes to a few hours) can elicit such changes in humans. Noninvasive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the human occipital cortex can evoke the perception of flashes or spots of light (phosphenes). To assess changes in visual cortex excitability following light deprivation, we measured the minimum intensity of stimulation required to elicit phosphenes (phosphene threshold) and the number of phosphenes elicited by different TMS stimulus intensities (stimulus-response curves). A reduced phosphene threshold was detected 45 min after the onset of light deprivation and persisted for the entire deprivation period (180 min). Following re-exposure to light, phosphene thresholds returned to predeprivation values over 120 min. Stimulus-response curves were significantly enhanced in association with this intervention. In a second experiment, we studied the effects of light deprivation on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signals elicited by photic stimulation. fMRI results showed increased visual cortex activation after 60 min of light deprivation that persisted following 30 min of re-exposure to light. Our results demonstrated a substantial increase in visual cortex excitability. These changes may underlie behavioral gains reported in humans and animals associated with light deprivation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Darkness
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetics
  • Male
  • Phosphenes / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*