Ipsilateral whiskers suppress experience-dependent plasticity in the barrel cortex.
Each cerebral hemisphere processes sensory input from both sides of the body, but the impact of this convergence on shaping and modifying receptive field properties remains controversial. Here we investigated the effect of chronic deprivation of ipsilateral sensory whiskers on receptive field plasticity in primary somatosensory cortex. In the absence of ipsilateral whiskers, cortical receptive fields were significantly larger than control after 1 week. Removal of all but a single whisker from one side of the face [single-whisker experience (SWE)] has been shown to result in the expansion of the cortical area responding to the spared whisker. We compared the effects of SWE in the presence (SWE-unilateral) and absence (SWE-bilateral) of ipsilateral whiskers. SWE-bilateral deprivation results in a significant increase in neuronal responses to spared whisker stimulation both in its cognate barrel column and in adjacent, surrounding barrel columns compared with control and SWE-unilateral deprived animals. Surround receptive fields in deprived columns were maintained in SWE-bilateral treated animals but depressed in SWE-unilateral animals. The increase in spared whisker responses was progressive with longer deprivation periods. These data show that ipsilateral whiskers can constrain receptive field size in the barrel cortex.