We have utilized an associative conditioning paradigm to induce changes in the receptive field (RF) properties of neurons in the adult cat striate cortex. During conditioning, the presentation of particular visual stimuli were repeatedly paired with the iontophoretic application of either GABA or glutamate to control postsynaptic firing rates. Similar paradigms have been used in kitten visual cortex to alter RF properties (Fregnac et al., 1988, 1992; Greuel et al., 1988; Shulz & Fregnac, 1992). Roughly half of the cells that were subjected to conditioning with stimuli differing in orientation were found to have orientation tuning curves that were significantly altered. In general, the modification in orientation tuning was not accompanied by a shift in preferred orientation, but rather, responsiveness to stimuli at or near the positively reinforced orientation was increased relative to controls, and responsiveness to stimuli at or near the negatively reinforced orientation was decreased relative to controls. A similar proportion of cells that were subjected to conditioning with stimuli differing in spatial phase were found to have spatial-phase tuning curves that were significantly modified. Conditioning stimuli typically differed by 90 deg in spatial phase, but modifications in spatial-phase angle were generally 30–40 deg. An interesting phenomenon we encountered was that during conditioning, cells often developed a modulated response to counterphased grating stimuli presented at the null spatial phase. We present an example of a simple cell for which the shift in preferred spatial phase measured with counterphased grating stimuli was comparable to the shift in spatial phase computed from a one-dimensional Gabor fit of the space-time RF profile. One of ten cells tested had a significant change in direction selectivity following associative conditioning. The specific and predictable modifications of RF properties induced by our associative conditioning procedure demonstrate the ability of mature visual cortical neurons to alter their integrative properties. Our results lend further support to models of synaptic plasticity where temporal correlations between presynaptic and postsynaptic activity levels control the efficiency of transmission at existing synapses, and to the idea that the mature visual cortex is, in some sense, dynamically organized.
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