Acetylcholine-dependent induction and expression of functional plasticity in the barrel cortex of the adult rat

J Neurophysiol. 2001 Jul;86(1):422-37. doi: 10.1152/jn.2001.86.1.422.


The involvement of acetylcholine (ACh) in the induction of neuronal sensory plasticity is well documented. Recently we demonstrated in the somatosensory cortex of the anesthetized rat that ACh is also involved in the expression of neuronal plasticity. Pairing stimulation of the principal whisker at a fixed temporal frequency with ACh iontophoresis induced potentiations of response that required re-application of ACh to be expressed. Here we fully characterize this phenomenon and extend it to stimulation of adjacent whiskers. We show that these ACh-dependent potentiations are cumulative and reversible. When several sensori-cholinergic pairings were applied consecutively with stimulation of the principal whisker, the response at the paired frequency was further increased, demonstrating a cumulative process that could reach saturation levels. The potentiations were specific to the stimulus frequency: if the successive pairings were done at different frequencies, then the potentiation caused by the first pairing was depotentiated, whereas the response to the newly paired frequency was potentiated. During testing, the potentiation of response did not develop immediately on the presentation of the paired frequency during application of ACh: the analysis of the kinetics of the effect indicates that this process requires the sequential presentation of several trains of stimulation at the paired frequency to be expressed. We present evidence that a plasticity with similar characteristics can be induced for responses to stimulation of an adjacent whisker, suggesting that this potentiation could participate in receptive field spatial reorganizations. The spatial and temporal properties of the ACh-dependent plasticity presented here impose specific constraints on the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology*
  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Electrophysiology
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Stimulation, Chemical
  • Vibrissae / innervation


  • Acetylcholine