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Keywords:

  • ERP;
  • LTP;
  • synaptic plasticity;
  • VEP;
  • visual cortex

Abstract

Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a candidate synaptic mechanism underlying learning and memory that has been studied extensively at the cellular and molecular level in laboratory animals. To date, LTP has only been directly demonstrated in humans in isolated cortical tissue obtained from patients undergoing surgery, where it displays properties identical to those seen in non-human preparations. Inquiry into the functional significance of LTP has been hindered by the absence of a human model. Here we give the first demonstration that the rapid repetitive presentation of a visual checkerboard (a photic ‘tetanus’) leads to a persistent enhancement of one of the early components of the visual evoked potential in normal humans. The potentiated response is largest in the hemisphere contralateral to the tetanized visual hemifield and is limited to one component of the visual evoked response (the N1b). The selective potentiation of only the N1b component makes overall brain excitability changes unlikely and suggests that the effect is due instead to an LTP process. While LTP is known to exist in the human brain, the ability to elicit LTP from non-surgical patients will provide a human model system allowing the detailed examination of synaptic plasticity in normal subjects and may have future clinical applications in the assessment of cognitive disorders.