Distribution of tactile learning and its neural basis

Justin A. Harris, Rasmus S. Petersen, Mathew E. Diamond

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The brain's sensory processing systems are modified during perceptual learning. To learn more about the spatial organization of learning-related modifications, we trained rats to utilize the sensory signal from a single intact whisker to carry out a behavioural task. Once a rat had mastered the task, we clipped its 'trained' whisker and attached a 'prosthetic' one to a different whisker stub. We then tested the rat to determine how quickly it could relearn the task by using the new whisker. We observed that rats were immediately able to use the prosthetic whisker if it were attached to the stub of the trained whisker but not if it were attached to a different stub. Indeed, the greater the distance between the trained and prosthetic whisker, the more trials were needed to relearn the task. We hypothesized that this 'transfer' of learning between whiskers might depend on how much the representations of individual whiskers overlap in primary somatosensory cortex. Testing this hypothesis by using 100-electrode cortical recordings, we found that the overlap between the cortical response patterns of two whiskers accounted well for the transfer of learning between them: The correlation between the electrophysiological and behavioral data was very high (r = 0.98). These findings suggest that a topographically distributed memory trace for sensory-perceptual learning may reside in primary sensory cortex.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7587-7591
    Number of pages4
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number13
    Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 1999


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