Sensory experience has a profound effect on neocortical neurons. Passive stimulation of whiskers or sensory deprivation from whiskers can induce long-lasting changes in neuronal responses or modify the receptive field in adult animals. We recorded barrel cortical neurons in urethane-anesthetized rats in layers 2/3 or 5/6 to determine if repetitive stimulation would induce long-lasting response facilitation. Air-puff stimulation (20-ms duration, 40 pulses at 0.5-8Hz) was applied to a single whisker. This repetitive stimulation increased tactile responses in layers 2/3 and 5/6 for 60min. Moreover, the functional coupling (coherence) between the sensory stimulus and the neural response also increased after the repetitive stimulation in neurons showing response facilitation. The long-lasting response facilitation was due to activation of N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors because it was reduced by APV ((2R)-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid, (2R)-amino-5-phosphonopentanoate) and MK801 application. Inactivation of layer 2/3 also blocked response facilitation in layer 5/6, suggesting that layer 2/3 may be fundamental in this synaptic plasticity processes. Moreover, i.p. injection of eserine augmented the number of layer 2/3 neurons expressing long-lasting response facilitation; this effect was blocked by atropine, suggesting that muscarinic receptor activation favors the induction of the response facilitation. Our data indicate that physiologically repetitive stimulation of a single whisker at the frequency at which rats move their whiskers during exploration of the environment induces long-lasting response facilitation improving sensory processing.
Keywords: LTP; sensory plasticity; somatosensory system; thalamocortical network; wavelet coherence.
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