Neural mechanisms of short-term visual plasticity and cortical disinhbition
Parks, Nathan Allen
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Deafferented cortical visual areas exhibit topographical plasticity such that their constituent neural populations adapt to the loss of sensory input through the expansion and eventual remapping of receptive fields to new regions of space. Such representational plasticity is most compelling in the long-term (months or years) but begins within seconds of retinal deafferentation (short-term plasticity). The neural mechanism proposed to underlie topographical plasticity is one of disinhibition whereby long-range horizontal inputs are "unmasked" by a reduction in local inhibitory drive. In this dissertation, four experiments investigated the neural mechanisms of short-term visual plasticity and disinhibition in humans using a combination of psychophysics and event-related potentials (ERPs). Short-term visual plasticity was induced using a stimulus-induced analog of retinal deafferentation known as an artifical scotoma. Artificial scotomas provide a useful paradigm for the study of short-term plasticity as they induce disinhibition but are temporary and reversible. Experiment 1 measured contrast response functions from within the boundaries of an artificial scotoma and evaluated them relative to a sham control condition. Changes in the contrast response function suggest that disinhibition can be conceived of in terms of two dependent but separable processes: receptive field expansion and unrestricted neural gain. A two-process model of disinhibition is proposed. A complementary ERP study (Experiment 2) recorded visual evoked potentials elicited by probes appearing within the boundaries of an artificial scotoma. Results revealed a neural correlate of disinhibition consistent with origins in striate and extrastriate visual areas. Experiment 3 and 4 were exploratory examinations of the representation of space surrounding an artificial scotoma and revealed a neural correlate of invading activity from normal cortex. Together, the results of these four studies strengthen the understanding of the neural mechanisms that underlie short-term plasticity and provide a conceptual framework for their evaluation.