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Short-term plasticity in primary somatosensory cortex of the rat: rapid changes in magnitudes and latencies of neuronal responses following digit denervation

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Recordings were made from neurons in primary somatosensory (SmI) forepaw cortex of rats to study the time course of changes in responses beginning immediately following denervation (ligation) of a single digit. Before denervation, neuronal receptive fields (RFs) defined by tactile stimulation varied in size from small regions of one digit to larger areas covering several digits and palmar pads. With electrical stimulation, most neurons responded best to one (on-focus) digit and less to other (off-focus) digits; on-focus stimulation yielded more spikes per stimulus and shorter spike latencies (L min) than did off-focus stimulation. After ligation of the on-focus digit, most neurons showed increased responsiveness to stimulating one or several off-focus digits and palmar regions of the forepaw: (1) tactile stimulation showed that the RFs of all but one neuron expanded to include previously “ineffective” skin regions, such as digits or palmar pads adjoining the original RF; (2) electrical stimulation usually evoked stronger responses from neighboring off-focus digits and sometimes elicited novel responses from previously ineffective digits — seven of ten neurons showed increases in spikes per stimulus, which tended to approach stable values within 60–90 min after denervation; three of ten neurons showed decreases in L min with time, but most revealed no significant changes. These results suggest that dynamic response properties, as well as RFs, of SmI cortical neurons can be modified rapidly by blocking afferent input from dominant on-focus skin regions. RFs expand and novel responses appear, with concomitant increases in response magnitude and, in some cases, decreases in response latency over time. These findings seem to reflect a rapid increase in synaptic efficacy of weak or previously ineffective inputs from cutaneous afferent nerve fibers.

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Doetsch, G.S., Harrison, T.A., MacDonald, A.C. et al. Short-term plasticity in primary somatosensory cortex of the rat: rapid changes in magnitudes and latencies of neuronal responses following digit denervation. Exp Brain Res 112, 505–512 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00227956

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Key words

  • Immediate plasticity
  • Denervation
  • Neuronal responses
  • Somatosensory cortex
  • Rat