Keeping a large-pupilled eye on high-level visual processing,Trends Cogn Sci.

The pupillary light response has long been considered an elementary reflex. However, evidence now shows that it integrates information from such complex phenomena as attention, contextual processing, and imagery. These discoveries make pupillometry a promising tool for an entirely new application: the study of high-level vision.

Spatial attention increases the pupillary response to light changes,J Vis, 2 (15), 1.

We measured pupil size in adult human subjects while we manipulated both the luminance of the visual scene and the location of attention. We found that, with central fixation maintained, pupillary constrictions and dilations evoked by peripheral luminance increments and decrements are larger when spatial attention is covertly (i.e., with no eye movements) directed to the stimulus region versus when it is directed to the opposite hemifield. Irrespective of the size of the attended region (focused at the center of the stimulus or spread within and outside the stimulus), the attentional enhancement is large: more than 20% of the response to stimuli in the unattended hemifield. This indicates that a sizable portion of this simple ocular behavior-often considered a subcortical “reflex”-in fact depends on cortical processing. Together, these features indicate that pupillometry is not only an index of retinal and brainstem function, but also an objective measure of complex constructs such as attention and its effects on sensory processing.

Introduction to the Special Issue on Multimodality of Early Sensory Processing: Early Visual Maps Flexibly Encode Multimodal Space, Multisensory Research, 3-4 (28), 249-252.

As living organisms, we have the capability to explore our environments through different senses, each making use of specialized organs and return ing unique information. This is relayed to a set of cortical areas, each of which appears to be specialized for processing information from a single sense — hence the definition of ‘unisensory’ areas. Many models assume that primary unisensory cortices passively reproduce information from each sensory organ; these then project to associative areas, which actively combine multisensory signals with each other and with cognitive stances. By the same token, the textbook view holds that sensory cortices undergo plastic changes only within a limited ‘critical period’; their function and architecture should remain stable and unchangeable thereafter. This model has led to many fundamental discoveries on the architecture of the sensory systems (e.g., oriented receptive fields, binocularity, topographic maps, to name just the best known). However, a growing body of evidence calls for a review of this conceptual scheme. Based on single-cell recordings from non-human primates, fMRI in humans, psychophysics, and sensory deprivation studies, early sensory areas are losing their status of fixed readouts of receptor activity; they are turning into functional nodes in a network of brain areas that flexibly adapts to the statistics of the input and the behavioral goals. This special issue in Multisensory Research aims to cover three such lines of evidence: suggesting that (1) the flexibility of spatial representations, (2) adult plasticity and (3) multimodality, are not properties of associative areas alone, but may depend on the primary visual cortex V1.

Resting-State Retinotopic Organization in the Absence of Retinal Input and Visual Experience,J Neurosci, 36 (35), 12366-12382.

Early visual areas have neuronal receptive fields that form a sampling mosaic of visual space, resulting in a series of retinotopic maps in which the same region of space is represented in multiple visual areas. It is not clear to what extent the development and maintenance of this retinotopic organization in humans depend on retinal waves and/or visual experience. We examined the corticocortical receptive field organization of resting-state BOLD data in normally sighted, early blind, and anophthalmic (in which both eyes fail to develop) individuals and found that resting-state correlations between V1 and V2/V3 were retinotopically organized for all subject groups. These results show that the gross retinotopic pattern of resting-state connectivity across V1-V3 requires neither retinal waves nor visual experience to develop and persist into adulthood.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Evidence from resting-state BOLD data suggests that the connections between early visual areas develop and are maintained even in the absence of retinal waves and visual experience.

Effect of saccade automaticity on perisaccadic space compression, Front Syst Neurosci, (9), 127.

Briefly presented stimuli occurring just before or during a saccadic eye movement are mislocalized, leading to a compression of visual space toward the target of the saccade. In most cases this has been measured in subjects over-trained to perform a stereotyped and unnatural task where saccades are repeatedly driven to the same location, marked by a highly salient abrupt onset. Here, we asked to what extent the pattern of perisaccadic mislocalization depends on this specific context. We addressed this question by studying perisaccadic localization in a set of participants with no prior experience in eye-movement research, measuring localization performance as they practiced the saccade task. Localization was marginally affected by practice over the course of the experiment and it was indistinguishable from the performance of expert observers. The mislocalization also remained similar when the expert observers were tested in a condition leading to less stereotypical saccadic behavior-with no abrupt onset marking the saccade target location. These results indicate that perisaccadic compression is a robust behavior, insensitive to the specific paradigm used to drive saccades and to the level of practice with the saccade task.

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.

On the Possibility of a Unifying Framework for Serial Dependencies, i-Perception, 6(6) 1–16.

Serial effects in perception have been studied since the dawn of psychophysics. Color aftereffects greatly advanced the understanding of color vision in the 19th century, and motion aftereffects have intrigued perceptual scientists for centuries. Recent discoveries in visual attention and psychophysics have intensifed interest in such effects. The current consensus is that they are not curiosities but serve an important function and can be critical for understanding perception.
The current article summarizes the contributions to a recent conference (SFX 2014, Pisa, Italy) and underscores the idea that the brain has learned how to exploit temporal regularities in the environment.