Experience-driven neuronal plasticity allows the brain to adapt its functional connectivity to recent sensory input. Here we use binocular rivalry, an experimental paradigm in which conflicting images are presented to the individual eyes, to demonstrate plasticity in the neuronal mechanisms that convert visual information from two separated retinas into single perceptual experiences. Perception during binocular rivalry tended to initially consist of alternations between exclusive representations of monocularly defined images, but upon prolonged exposure, mixture percepts became more prevalent. The completeness of suppression, reflected in the incidence of mixture percepts, plausibly reflects the strength of inhibition that likely plays a role in binocular rivalry. Recovery of exclusivity was possible but required highly specific binocular stimulation. Documenting the prerequisites for these observed changes in perceptual exclusivity, our experiments suggest experience-driven plasticity at interocular inhibitory synapses, driven by the correlated activity (and also the lack thereof) of neurons representing the conflicting stimuli. This form of plasticity is consistent with a previously proposed but largely untested anti-Hebbian learning mechanism for inhibitory synapses in vision. Our results implicate experience-driven plasticity as one governing principle in the neuronal organization of binocular vision.
Copyright 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.