The primary sensory neocortex generates an internal representation of the environment, and its circuit reorganization is thought to lead to a modification of sensory perception. This reorganization occurs primarily through activity-dependent plasticity and has been well documented in animals during early developmental stages. Here, we describe a new method for the noninvasive induction of long-term plasticity in the mature brain: simple transient visual stimuli (i.e., flashing lights) can be used to induce prolonged modifications in visual cortical processing and visually driven behaviors. Our previous studies have shown that, in the primary visual cortex (V1) of mice, a flashing light stimulus evokes a long-delayed response that persists for seconds. When the mice were repetitively presented with drifting grating stimuli (conditioned stimuli) during the flash stimulus-evoked delayed response period, the V1 neurons exhibited a long-lasting decrease in responsiveness to the conditioned stimuli. The flash stimulus-induced underrepresentation of the grating motion was specific to the direction of the conditioned stimuli and was associated with a decrease in the animal's ability to detect the motion of the drifting gratings. The neurophysiological and behavioral plasticity both persisted for at least several hours and required N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor activation in the visual cortex. We propose that flashing light stimuli can be used as an experimental tool to investigate the visual function and plasticity of neuronal representations and perception after a critical period of neocortical plasticity.
Keywords: Long-term plasticity; N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor; primary visual cortex; visual perception.