Evidence from macaques  and humans [2, 3] has shown that back projections from extrastriate areas to the primary visual area (V1) determine whether visual awareness will arise. For example, reentrant projections from the visual motion area (V5) to V1 are considered to be critical for awareness of motion [2, 3]. If these projections are also instrumental to functional processing of moving stimuli [4-8], then increasing synaptic efficacy in V5-V1 connections should induce functionally relevant short-term plastic changes, resulting in enhanced perception of visual motion. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), we applied a novel cortico-cortical paired associative stimulation (ccPAS) protocol to transiently enhance visual motion sensitivity and demonstrate both the functional relevance of V5-V1 reentrant projections to motion perception and their plasticity. Specifically, we found that ccPAS aimed at strengthening reentrant connectivity from V5 to V1 (but not in the opposite direction) enhanced the human ability to perceive coherent visual motion. This perceptual enhancement followed the temporal profile of Hebbian plasticity [9-18] and was observed only when an optimal timing of 20 ms between TMS pulses [2, 3, 5, 6] was used, not when TMS pulses were delivered synchronously. Thus, plastic change is critically dependent on both the direction and timing of connectivity; if either of these requirements was not met, perceptual enhancement did not take place. We therefore provide novel causal evidence that V5-V1 back projections, instrumental to motion perception, are functionally malleable. These findings have implications for theoretical models of visual awareness and for the rehabilitation of visual deficits. Romei et al. show that visual processing of coherent motion, subserved by reentrant connections between extrastriate area V5 and early visual cortex V1, is functionally malleable. Strengthening the synaptic efficacy of the V5-V1 network enhances coherent motion perception following the temporal profile of the Hebbian rule.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)