During tactile learning there is a transformation in the way the primary somatosensory cortex integrates, represents, and distributes information from the skin. To define this transformation, the site of earliest modification has been identified in rat somatosensory cortex after a change in sensory experience. Afferent activity was manipulated by clipping all except two whiskers on one side of the snout ("whisker pairing"), and the receptive fields of neurons at different cortical depths were mapped 24 hours later. Neurons in layer IV, the target of the primary thalamic pathway, were unaltered, whereas neurons located above and below layer IV showed significant changes. These changes were similar to those that occur in layer IV after longer periods of whisker pairing. The findings support the hypothesis that the layers of cortex contribute differently to plasticity. Neurons in the supragranular and infragranular layers respond rapidly to changes in sensory experience and may contribute to subsequent modification in layer IV.
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