Congruent tactile stimulation reduces the strength of visual suppression during binocular rivalry,Sci. Rep., (5).

Presenting different images to each eye triggers ‘binocular rivalry’ in which one image is visible and the other suppressed, with the visible image alternating every second or so. We previously showed that binocular rivalry between cross-oriented gratings is altered when the fingertip explores a grooved stimulus aligned with one of the rivaling gratings: the matching visual grating’s dominance duration was lengthened and its suppression duration shortened. In a more robust test, we here measure visual contrast sensitivity during rivalry dominance and suppression, with and without exploration of the grooved surface, to determine if rivalry suppression strength is modulated by touch. We find that a visual grating undergoes 45% less suppression when observers touch an aligned grating, compared to a cross-oriented one. Touching an aligned grating also improved visual detection thresholds for the ‘invisible’ suppressed grating by 2.4?dB, relative to a vision-only condition. These results show that congruent haptic stimulation prevents a visual stimulus from becoming deeply suppressed in binocular rivalry. Moreover, because congruent touch acted on the phenomenally invisible grating, this visuo-haptic interaction must precede awareness and likely occurs early in visual processing.

Short-Term Monocular Deprivation Alters GABA in the Adult Human Visual Cortex,Curr Biol, 11 (25), 1496-1501.

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.

Short-term monocular deprivation alters early components of visual evoked potentials, J Physiol, 19 (593), 4361-4372.

Very little is known about plasticity in the adult visual cortex. In recent years psychophysical studies have shown that short-term monocular deprivation alters visual perception in adult humans. Specifically, after 150 min of monocular deprivation the deprived eye strongly dominates the dynamics of binocular rivalry, reflecting homeostatic plasticity. Here we investigate the neural mechanisms underlying this form of short-term visual cortical plasticity by measuring visual evoked potentials (VEPs) on the scalp of adult humans during monocular stimulation before and after 150 min of monocular deprivation. We found that monocular deprivation had opposite effects on the amplitude of the earliest component of the VEP (C1) for the deprived and non-deprived eye stimulation. C1 amplitude increased (+66%) for the deprived eye, while it decreased (-29%) for the non-deprived eye. Source localization analysis confirmed that the C1 originates in the primary visual cortex. We further report that following monocular deprivation, the amplitude of the peak of the evoked alpha spectrum increased on average by 23% for the deprived eye and decreased on average by 10% for the non-deprived eye, indicating a change in cortical excitability. These results indicate that a brief period of monocular deprivation alters interocular balance in the primary visual cortex of adult humans by both boosting the activity of the deprived eye and reducing the activity of the non-deprived eye. This indicates a high level of residual homeostatic plasticity in the adult human primary visual cortex, probably mediated by a change in cortical excitability.

A cycling lane for brain rewiring, Curr Biol, 23 (25), R1122-R1123.

Brain plasticity, defined as the capability of cerebral neurons to change in response to experience, is fundamental for behavioral adaptability, learning, memory, functional development, and neural repair. The visual cortex is a widely used model for studying neuroplasticity and the underlying mechanisms. Plasticity is maximal in early development, within the so-called critical period, while its levels abruptly decline in adulthood [1]. Recent studies, however, have revealed a significant residual plastic potential of the adult visual cortex by showing that, in adult humans, short-term monocular deprivation alters ocular dominance by homeostatically boosting responses to the deprived eye [2-4]. In animal models, a reopening of critical period plasticity in the adult primary visual cortex has been obtained by a variety of environmental manipulations, such as dark exposure, or environmental enrichment, together with its critical component of enhanced physical exercise [5-8]. Among these non-invasive procedures, physical exercise emerges as particularly interesting for its potential of application to clinics, though there has been a lack of experimental evidence available that physical exercise actually promotes visual plasticity in humans. Here we report that short-term homeostatic plasticity of the adult human visual cortex induced by transient monocular deprivation is potently boosted by moderate levels of voluntary physical activity. These findings could have a bearing in orienting future research in the field of physical activity application to clinical research.