Visual training paired with electrical stimulation of the basal forebrain improves orientation-selective visual acuity in the rat

Brain Struct Funct. 2014 Jul;219(4):1493-507. doi: 10.1007/s00429-013-0582-y. Epub 2013 May 23.


The cholinergic afferents from the basal forebrain to the primary visual cortex play a key role in visual attention and cortical plasticity. These afferent fibers modulate acute and long-term responses of visual neurons to specific stimuli. The present study evaluates whether this cholinergic modulation of visual neurons results in cortical activity and visual perception changes. Awake adult rats were exposed repeatedly for 2 weeks to an orientation-specific grating with or without coupling this visual stimulation to an electrical stimulation of the basal forebrain. The visual acuity, as measured using a visual water maze before and after the exposure to the orientation-specific grating, was increased in the group of trained rats with simultaneous basal forebrain/visual stimulation. The increase in visual acuity was not observed when visual training or basal forebrain stimulation was performed separately or when cholinergic fibers were selectively lesioned prior to the visual stimulation. The visual evoked potentials show a long-lasting increase in cortical reactivity of the primary visual cortex after coupled visual/cholinergic stimulation, as well as c-Fos immunoreactivity of both pyramidal and GABAergic interneuron. These findings demonstrate that when coupled with visual training, the cholinergic system improves visual performance for the trained orientation probably through enhancement of attentional processes and cortical plasticity in V1 related to the ratio of excitatory/inhibitory inputs. This study opens the possibility of establishing efficient rehabilitation strategies for facilitating visual capacity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Basal Forebrain / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Visual Acuity / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos