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Learning to see: experience and attention in primary visual cortex

Abstract

The response properties of neurons in primary sensory cortices remain malleable throughout life. The existence of such plasticity, and the characteristics of a form of implicit learning known as perceptual learning, suggest that changes in primary sensory cortex may mediate learning. We explored whether modification of the functional properties of primary visual cortex (V1) accompanies perceptual learning. Basic receptive field properties, such as location, size and orientation selectivity, were unaffected by perceptual training, and visual topography (as measured by magnification factor) was indistinguishable between trained and untrained animals. On the other hand, the influence of contextual stimuli placed outside the receptive field showed a change consistent with the trained discrimination. Furthermore, this property showed task dependence, only being manifest when the animal was performing the trained discrimination.

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Figure 1: Monkeys improved with training on bisection task.
Figure 2: Representation of visual space did not change as a result of bisection training.
Figure 3: RF size and orientation tuning bandwidth did not change following bisection training.
Figure 4: Contextual interactions changed when the monkey performed the bisection task.
Figure 5: Modulation depended on the task that the monkey performed in trained but not untrained hemisphere.
Figure 6: Changes in contextual interactions are not observed for untrained stimulus patterns or in the untrained hemisphere.
Figure 7: Measurement of receptive field profiles during fixation and bisection trials in trained and untrained hemisphere.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by NIH grants EY07968 (C.D.G.) and GM07524 (R.E.C.).

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Correspondence to Charles D. Gilbert.

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Crist, R., Li, W. & Gilbert, C. Learning to see: experience and attention in primary visual cortex. Nat Neurosci 4, 519–525 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/87470

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