Behavioral performance depends on the activity of neurons in sensory cortex, but little is known about the brain's capacity to access specific neuronal signals to guide behavior. Even the individual sensory neurons that are most sensitive to a relevant stimulus are only weakly correlated with behavior, suggesting that behavioral decisions are based on the combined activity of groups of neurons with sensitivities well matched to task demands. To explore how flexibly different patterns of activity can be accessed from a given cortical region, we trained animals to detect electrical microstimulation of local V1 sites. By allowing the animals to become expert at the detection of microstimulation of specific V1 sites that corresponded to particular retinotopic locations, we could measure the effects of that training on the ability of those sites to support the detection of visual stimuli. Training to detect electrical activation caused a large, reversible, retinotopically localized impairment of thresholds for detecting visual stimuli. Retraining on visual detection restored normal thresholds and in turn impaired thresholds for detecting microstimulation. These results suggest that there are substantial limits to the types of signals for which a local cortical region can be simultaneously optimized.
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