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Keywords:

  • cortical plasticity;
  • electrophysiological mapping;
  • lactation;
  • rat;
  • receptive field segregation/desegregation;
  • somatosensory

Abstract

Contiguous skin surfaces that tend to be synchronously stimulated are represented in neighbouring sectors of primary somatosensory maps. Moreover, neuronal receptive fields (RFs) are reshaped through ongoing competitive/cooperative interactions that segregate/desegregate inputs converging onto cortical neuronal targets. The present study was designed to evaluate the influence of spatio-temporal constraints on somatotopic map organization. A vascularized and innervated pedicle flap of the ventrum skin bearing nipples was rotated by 180°. Electrophysiological maps of ventrum skin were elaborated in the same rats at 24 h after surgery and 2 weeks after parturition. Neurones with split RFs resulting from the surgical separation of formerly adjoining skin surfaces were more numerous in non-nursing than nursing rats. RFs that included newly adjacent skin surfaces on both sides of the scar line emerged in nursing rats, suggesting that the spatial contiguity of formerly separated skin surfaces induced a fusion of their cortical representations through nursing-induced stimulation. In addition, nursing-dependent inputs were found to reincorporate the rotated skin flap representation in an updated topographical organization of the cortical map. A skin territory including recipient and translocated skin areas was costimulated for 7 h, using a brushing device. Neural responses evoked by a piezoelectric-induced skin indentation before and after skin brushing confirmed the emergence of RFs crossing the scar line and contraction of non-brushed components of split RFs. Our findings provide further evidence that the spatiotemporal structure of sensory inputs changing rapidly or evolving in a natural context is critical for experience-dependent reorganization of cortical map topography.