Collections > UNC Scholarly Publications > BioMed Central > Effects of stimulus-driven synchronization on sensory perception

Abstract Background A subject's ability to differentiate the loci of two points on the skin depends on the stimulus-evoked pericolumnar lateral inhibitory interactions which increase the spatial contrast between regions of SI cortex that are activated by stimulus-evoked afferent drive. Nevertheless, there is very little known about the impact that neuronal interactions – such as those evoked by mechanical skin stimuli that project to and coordinate synchronized activity in adjacent and/or near-adjacent cortical columns – could have on sensory information processing. Methods The temporal order judgment (TOJ) and temporal discriminative threshold (TDT) of 20 healthy adult subjects were assessed both in the absence and presence of concurrent conditions of tactile stimulation. These measures were obtained across a number of paired sites – two unilateral and one bilateral – and several conditions of adapting stimuli were delivered both prior to and concurrently with the TOJ and TDT tasks. The pairs of conditioning stimuli were synchronized and periodic, synchronized and non-periodic, or asynchronous and non-periodic. Results In the absence of any additional stimuli, TOJ and TDT results obtained from the study were comparable across a number of pairs of stimulus sites – unilateral as well as bilateral. In the presence of a 25 Hz conditioning sinusoidal stimulus which was delivered both before, concurrently and after the TOJ task, there was a significant change in the TOJ measured when the two stimuli were located unilaterally on digits 2 and 3. However, in the presence of the same 25 Hz conditioning stimulus, the TOJ obtained when the two stimuli were delivered bilaterally was not impacted. TDT measures were not impacted to the same degree by the concurrent stimuli that were delivered to the unilateral or bilateral stimulus sites. This led to the speculation that the impact that the conditioning stimuli – which were sinusoidal, periodic and synchronous – had on TOJ measures was due to the synchronization of adjacent cortical ensembles in somatosensory cortex, and that the synchronization of these cortical ensembles could have been responsible for the degradation in temporal order judgment. In order to more directly test this hypothesis, the synchronized 25 Hz conditioning stimuli that were delivered during the initial TOJ test were replaced with asynchronous non-periodic 25 Hz conditioning stimuli, and these asynchronous conditioning stimuli did not impact the TOJ measures. Conclusion The results give support to the theory that synchronization of cortical ensembles in SI could significantly impact the topography of temporal perception, and these findings are speculated to be linked mechanistically to previously reported co-activation plasticity studies. Additionally, the impact that such synchronizing conditioning stimuli have on TOJ – which can be measured relatively quickly – could provide an effective means to assess the functional connectivity of neurologically compromised subject populations.