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New Research in Current Biology

Congratulations to Claudia and Concetta whose latest paper has just been published in Current Biology!

Lunghi, C., Emir, U. E., Morrone, M. C. & Bridge, H. (2015). Short-Term Monocular Deprivation Alters GABA in the Adult Human Visual Cortex, Curr Biol, 11 (25), 1496-1501. PDF

Neuroplasticity is a fundamental property of the nervous system that is maximal early in life, within the critical period [1-3]. Resting GABAergic inhibition is necessary to trigger ocular dominance plasticity and to modulate the onset and offset of the critical period [4, 5]. GABAergic inhibition also plays a crucial role in neuroplasticity of adult animals: the balance between excitation and inhibition in the primary visual cortex (V1), measured at rest, modulates the susceptibility of ocular dominance to deprivation [6-10]. In adult humans, short-term monocular deprivation strongly modifies ocular balance, unexpectedly boosting the deprived eye, reflecting homeostatic plasticity [11, 12]. There is no direct evidence, however, to support resting GABAergic inhibition in homeostatic plasticity induced by visual deprivation. Here, we tested the hypothesis that GABAergic inhibition, measured at rest, is reduced by deprivation, as demonstrated by animal studies. GABA concentration in V1 of adult humans was measured using ultra-high-field 7T magnetic resonance spectroscopy before and after short-term monocular deprivation. After monocular deprivation, resting GABA concentration decreased in V1 but was unaltered in a control parietal area. Importantly, across participants, the decrease in GABA strongly correlated with the deprived eye perceptual boost measured by binocular rivalry. Furthermore, after deprivation, GABA concentration measured during monocular stimulation correlated with the deprived eye dominance. We suggest that reduction in resting GABAergic inhibition triggers homeostatic plasticity in adult human V1 after a brief period of abnormal visual experience. These results are potentially useful for developing new therapeutic strategies that could exploit the intrinsic residual plasticity of the adult human visual cortex.

New Research in PNAS

Congratulations to Marco T, David M, and David B whose latest paper has just been published in PNAS!

Turi, M., Burr, D. C., Igliozzi, R., Aagten-Murphy, D., Muratori, F. & Pellicano, E. (2015). Children with autism spectrum disorder show reduced adaptation to number, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PDF

Autism is known to be associated with major perceptual atypicalities. We have recently proposed a general model to account for these atypicalities in Bayesian terms, suggesting that autistic individuals underuse predictive information or priors. We tested this idea by measuring adaptation to numerosity stimuli in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). After exposure to large numbers of items, stimuli with fewer items appear to be less numerous (and vice versa). We found that children with ASD adapted much less to numerosity than typically developing children, although their precision for numerosity discrimination was similar to that of the typical group. This result reinforces recent findings showing reduced adaptation to facial identity in ASD and goes on to show that reduced adaptation is not unique to faces (social stimuli with special significance in autism), but occurs more generally, for both parietal and temporal functions, probably reflecting inefficiencies in the adaptive interpretation of sensory signals. These results provide strong support for the Bayesian theories of autism.

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New Research in The Journal of Neuroscience

Congratulations to Alice, Donatella, Marco, Giulio and Concetta whose latest paper has just been published in The Journal of Neuroscience!

Tomassini, A., Spinelli, D., Jacono, M., Sandini, G. & Morrone, M. C. (2015). Rhythmic oscillations of visual contrast sensitivity synchronized with action,J Neurosci, 18 (35), 7019-7029. PDF

It is well known that the motor and the sensory systems structure sensory data collection and cooperate to achieve an efficient integration and exchange of information. Increasing evidence suggests that both motor and sensory functions are regulated by rhythmic processes reflecting alternating states of neuronal excitability, and these may be involved in mediating sensory-motor interactions. Here we show an oscillatory fluctuation in early visual processing time locked with the execution of voluntary action, and, crucially, even for visual stimuli irrelevant to the motor task. Human participants were asked to perform a reaching movement toward a display and judge the orientation of a Gabor patch, near contrast threshold, briefly presented at random times before and during the reaching movement. When the data are temporally aligned to the onset of movement, visual contrast sensitivity oscillates with periodicity within the theta band. Importantly, the oscillations emerge during the motor planning stage, approximately 500 ms before movement onset. We suggest that brain oscillatory dynamics may mediate an automatic coupling between early motor planning and early visual processing, possibly instrumental in linking and closing up the visual-motor control loop.

The XVI Congress for the Italian Society for Neuroscience - Cagliari on October 8th -11th, 2015.
SINS will award 100 grants to pre-doctoral and post-doctoral SINS members to attend and present their data at the SINS Congress 2015

New Research in Neuropsychologia

Congratulations to Francesca, Giovanni, Monica, David, Mariaelisa, David, Giovanni, Concetta whose latest paper has just been accepted in Neuropsychologia!

Tinelli, F., Anobile, G., Gori, M., Aagten-Murphy, D., Bartoli, M., Burr, D. C., et al. Time, number and attention in very low birth weight children,Neuropsychologia, 2015 PDF

Premature birth has been associated with damage in many regions of the cerebral cortex, although there is a particularly strong susceptibility for damage within the parieto-occipital lobes (Volpe, 2009). As these areas have been shown to be critical for both visual attention and magnitudes perception (time, space, and number), it is important to investigate the impact of prematurity on both the magnitude and attentional systems, particularly for children without overt white matter injuries, where the lack of obvious injury may cause their difficulties to remain unnoticed. In this study, we investigated the ability to judge time intervals (visual, audio and audio-visual temporal bisection), discriminate between numerical quantities (numerosity comparison), map numbers onto space (numberline task) and to maintain visuo-spatial attention (multiple-object-tracking) in school-age preterm children (N29). The results show that various parietal functions may be more or less robust to prematurity-related difficulties, with strong impairments found on time estimation and attentional task, while numerical discrimination or mapping tasks remained relatively unimpaired. Thus while our study generally supports the hypothesis of a dorsal stream vulnerability in children born preterm relative to other cortical locations, it further suggests that particular cognitive processes, as highlighted by performance on different tasks, are far more susceptible than others.

New Research in Journal of Vision

Congratulations to Giovanni, Marco T., Marco C. and David, whose latest paper has just been accepted in Journal of Vision!

Anobile, G., Turi, M., Cicchini, G. M. & Burr, D. (2015). Mechanisms for perception of numerosity or texture-density are governed by crowding-like effects,Journal of Vision, 15 (5), 1-12. PDF

We have recently provided evidence that the perception of number and texture density is mediated by two independent mechanisms: numerosity mechanisms at relatively low numbers, obeying Weber’s law, and texture-density mechanisms at higher numerosities, following a square root law. In this study we investigated whether the switch between the two mechanisms depends on the capacity to segregate individual dots, and therefore follows similar laws to those governing visual crowding. We measured numerosity discrimination for a wide range of numerosities at three eccentricities. We found that the point where the numerosity regime (Weber’s law) gave way to the density regime (square root law) depended on eccentricity. In central vision, the regime changed at 2.3 dots/82, while at 158 eccentricity, it changed at 0.5 dots/82, three times less dense. As a consequence, thresholds for low numerosities increased with eccentricity, while at higher numerosities thresholds remained constant. We further showed that like crowding, the regime change was independent of dot size, depending on distance between dot centers, not distance between dot edges or ink coverage. Performance was not affected by stimulus contrast or blur, indicating that the transition does not depend on low-level stimulus properties. Our results reinforce the notion that numerosity and texture are mediated by two distinct processes, depending on whether the individual elements are perceptually segregable. Which mechanism is engaged follows laws that determine crowding.

New Research in Autism Research

Congratulations to David and Murphy, whose latest paper has just been published in Autism Research!

Aagten-Murphy, D., Attucci, C., Daniel, N., Klaric, E., Burr, D. & Pellicano, E. (2015). Numerical estimation in children with autism,Autism Res, PDF

Number skills are often reported anecdotally and in the mass media as a relative strength for individuals with autism, yet there are remarkably few research studies addressing this issue. This study, therefore, sought to examine autistic children's number estimation skills and whether variation in these skills can explain at least in part strengths and weaknesses in children's mathematical achievement. Thirty-two cognitively able children with autism (range = 8-13 years) and 32 typical children of similar age and ability were administered a standardized test of mathematical achievement and two estimation tasks, one psychophysical nonsymbolic estimation (numerosity discrimination) task and one symbolic estimation (numberline) task. Children with autism performed worse than typical children on the numerosity task, on the numberline task, which required mapping numerical values onto space, and on the test of mathematical achievement. These findings question the widespread belief that mathematical skills are generally enhanced in autism. For both groups of children, variation in performance on the numberline task was also uniquely related to their academic achievement, over and above variation in intellectual ability; better number-to-space mapping skills went hand-in-hand with better arithmetic skills. Future research should further determine the extent and underlying causes of some autistic children's difficulties with regards to number. Autism Res 2015. (c) 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

New Research in Developmental Science

Congratulations to David and Monica, whose latest paper has just been published in Developmental Science!

Vercillo, T., Burr, D., Sandini, G. & Gori, M. (2014). Children do not recalibrate motor-sensory temporal order after exposure to delayed sensory feedback,Dev Sci,

Prolonged adaptation to delayed sensory feedback to a simple motor act (such as pressing a key) causes recalibration of sensory-motor synchronization, so instantaneous feedback appears to precede the motor act that caused it (Stetson, Cui, Montague & Eagleman, 2006). We investigated whether similar recalibration occurs in school-age children. Although plasticity may be expected to be even greater in children than in adults, we found no evidence of recalibration in children aged 8-11 years. Subjects adapted to delayed feedback for 100 trials, intermittently pressing a key that caused a tone to sound after a 200 ms delay. During the test phase, subjects responded to a visual cue by pressing a key, which triggered a tone to be played at variable intervals before or after the keypress. Subjects judged whether the tone preceded or followed the keypress, yielding psychometric functions estimating the delay when they perceived the tone to be synchronous with the action. The psychometric functions also gave an estimate of the precision of the temporal order judgment. In agreement with previous studies, adaptation caused a shift in perceived synchrony in adults, so the keypress appeared to trail behind the auditory feedback, implying sensory-motor recalibration. However, school children of 8 to 11 years showed no measureable adaptation of perceived simultaneity, even after adaptation with 500 ms lags. Importantly, precision in the simultaneity task also improved with age, and this developmental trend correlated strongly with the magnitude of recalibration. This suggests that lack of recalibration of sensory-motor simultaneity after adaptation in school-age children is related to their poor precision in temporal order judgments. To test this idea we measured recalibration in adult subjects with auditory noise added to the stimuli (which hampered temporal precision). Under these conditions, recalibration was greatly reduced, with the magnitude of recalibration strongly correlating with temporal precision.

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