Abstract

It has been known for several years that receptive field properties of sensory cortical neurons can be altered by learning experiences. We attempted to visualize a global change of the cortical body map induced by learning. In order to do this a short-duration classical conditioning involving stimulation of a row of mystacial vibrissae in mice was followed with 2-deoxyglucose (2DG) mapping of functional activity. Three conditioning sessions that paired stimulation of a row of whiskers with a tail shock produced an increase of the functional representation in somatosensory cortex (SI) of a row of the whiskers stimulated during the training. This plastic change of vibrissal representation in SI was visualized with 2DG autoradiography a day after completion of training. The expansion of representation was the most pronounced in cortical layer IV, and to a lesser extent, in layer IIIb. The expansion was observed in conditioned but not in pseudoconditioned mice or in animals that received only the conditioned stimulus. If training was discontinued, the enlargement of vibrissal representation progressively faded. The reversal could be accelerated by a behavioral extinction procedure. This study gives the pictorial demonstration of rapid, transient, and extinguishable learning-dependent changes in SI cortical maps.