Neural correlates of perceptual learning: a functional MRI study of visual texture discrimination

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Dec 24;99(26):17137-42. doi: 10.1073/pnas.242414599. Epub 2002 Nov 21.


Visual texture discrimination has been shown to induce long-lasting behavioral improvement restricted to the trained eye and trained location in visual field [Karni, A. & Sagi, D. (1991) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 88, 4966-4970]. We tested the hypothesis that such learning involves durable neural modifications at the earliest cortical stages of the visual system, where eye specificity, orientation, and location information are mapped with highest resolution. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging in humans, we measured neural activity 24 h after a single session of intensive monocular training on visual texture discrimination, performed in one visual quadrant. Within-subject comparisons between trained and untrained eye for targets presented within the same quadrant revealed higher activity in a corresponding retinotopic area of visual cortex. Functional connectivity analysis showed that these learning-dependent changes were not associated with an increased engagement of other brain areas remote from early visual cortex. We suggest that these new data are consistent with recent proposals that the cellular mechanisms underlying this type of perceptual learning may involve changes in local connections within primary visual cortex. Our findings provide a direct demonstration of learning-dependent reorganization at early processing stages in the visual cortex of adult humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*