Cortical plasticity, excitatory-inhibitory balance, and sensory perception

Prog Brain Res. 2013;207:65-90. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63327-9.00003-5.


Experience shapes the central nervous system throughout life. Structural and functional plasticity confers a remarkable ability on the brain, allowing neural circuits to adequately adapt to dynamic environments. This process can require selective adjustment of many excitatory and inhibitory synapses in an organized manner, in such a way as to enhance representations of behaviorally important sensory stimuli while preserving overall network excitability. The rules and mechanisms that orchestrated these changes across different synapses and throughout neuronal ensembles are beginning to be understood. Here, we review the evidence connecting synaptic plasticity to functional plasticity and perceptual learning, focusing on the roles of various neuromodulatory systems in enabling plasticity of adult neural circuits. However, the challenge remains to appropriately leverage these systems and forms of plasticity to persistently improve perceptual abilities and behavioral performance.

Keywords: excitatory–inhibitory balance; neuromodulation; perception; sensory cortex; synaptic plasticity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology