The influence of vision on tactile Hebbian learning

Sci Rep. 2017 Aug 22;7(1):9069. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-09181-6.


NMDA-dependent Hebbian learning drives neuronal plasticity in different cortical areas, and across species. In the primary somatosensory cortex (S-I), Hebbian learning is induced via the persistent low-rate afferent stimulation of a small area of skin. In particular, plasticity is induced in superficial cortical layers II/III of the S-I cortex that represents the stimulated area of skin. Here, we used the model system of NMDA-dependent Hebbian learning to investigate the influence of non-afferent (visual) input on Hebbian plasticity in S-I. We induced Hebbian learning in 48 participants by applying 3 hours of tactile coactivation to the right index fingertip via small loudspeaker membranes. During coactivation, different groups viewed either touches to individual fingers, which is known to activate S-I receptive fields, touches to an object, which should not activate S-I receptive fields, or no touch at all. Our results show that coactivation significantly lowers tactile spatial discrimination thresholds at the stimulated finger post- versus pre-training across groups. However, we did not find evidence for a significant modulatory effect of visual condition on tactile spatial discrimination performance. This suggests that non-afferent (visual) signals do not interact with Hebbian learning in superficial cortical layers of S-I, but may integrate into deeper cortical layers instead.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Touch*
  • Vision, Ocular*
  • Young Adult