Structural plasticity within the barrel cortex during initial phases of whisker-dependent learning.

We report learning-related structural plasticity in layer 1 branches of pyramidal neurons in the barrel cortex, a known site of sensorimotor integration. In mice learning an active, whisker-dependent object localization task, layer 2/3 neurons showed enhanced spine growth during initial skill acquisition that both preceded and predicted expert performance. Preexisting spines were stabilized and new persistent spines were formed. These findings suggest rapid changes in connectivity between motor centers and sensory cortex guide subsequent sensorimotor learning.