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Electrical stimulation of the macaque ventral tegmental area drives category-selective learning without attention

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Perception improves by repeated practice with visual stimuli, a phenomenon known as visual perceptual learning (VPL). The interplay of attentional and neuromodulatory reward signals is hypothesized to cause these behavioral and associated neuronal changes, although VPL can occur without attention (i.e., task-irrelevant VPL). In addition, task-relevant VPL can be category-selective for simple attended oriented stimuli. Yet, it is unclear whether category-selective task-irrelevant VPL occurs and which brain centers mediate underlying forms of adult cortical plasticity. Here, we show that pairing subliminal complex visual stimuli (faces and bodies) with electrical microstimulation of the ventral tegmental area (VTA-EM) causes category-selective task-irrelevant VPL. These perceptual improvements are accompanied by fMRI signal changes in early and late visual and frontal areas, as well as the cerebellum, hippocampus, claustrum, and putamen. In conclusion, Pavlovian pairing of unattended complex stimuli with VTA-EM causes category-selective learning accompanied by changes of cortical and subcortical neural representations in macaques.
Journal: Neuron
ISSN: 0896-6273
Issue: 8
Volume: 109
Pages: 1381 - +
Number of pages: 22
Publication year:2021