The visual cortex has the capacity for experience-dependent change, or cortical plasticity, that is retained throughout life. Plasticity is invoked for encoding information during perceptual learning, by internally representing the regularities of the visual environment, which is useful for facilitating intermediate-level vision--contour integration and surface segmentation. The same mechanisms have adaptive value for functional recovery after CNS damage, such as that associated with stroke or neurodegenerative disease. A common feature to plasticity in primary visual cortex (V1) is an association field that links contour elements across the visual field. The circuitry underlying the association field includes a plexus of long-range horizontal connections formed by cortical pyramidal cells. These connections undergo rapid and exuberant sprouting and pruning in response to removal of sensory input, which can account for the topographic reorganization following retinal lesions. Similar alterations in cortical circuitry may be involved in perceptual learning, and the changes observed in V1 may be representative of how learned information is encoded throughout the cerebral cortex.
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