Final Report Summary - ECSPLAIN (Early Cortical Sensory Plasticity and Adaptability in Human Adults)
This project studies the underlying neural mechanisms of adult human plasticity, particularly how it intervenes in important processes such as response optimization, auto-calibration and recovery of function. An important part of the study concerns development and plasticity in newborns, providing benchmark data to assess residual plasticity of older humans. The project has uncovered important knowledge. Using short-term monocular deprivation, we have demonstrated that visual primary cortex retains a strong form of homeostatic plasticity in adults. The plasticity acts by a reduction of cortical GABAegic inhibition and a boost of neuronal responses of the deprived eye. Furthermore we show that the adult homeostatic plasticity can be potentiated to become long-lasting when combined to physical exercise. We translated the results to amblyopic patients demonstrating in children that the initial homeostatic plasticity favouring the deprived (non-amblyopic) eye is a proxy of the level of acuity recovered in the amblyopic eye after prolonged patching therapy. In adults we showed that the amblyopic eye can regain strong and permanent improvement after a few short training sessions that combine patching of the amblyopic eye and physical exercise. We have also demonstrated that visual plasticity is possible in adults even after many years of blindness. Restoration of vision with retinal prosthesis and intensive training induces a strong increase in BOLD activity in primary visual cortex that can be exploited in the development of new prosthetic implants. Finally we monitor visual development and plasticity in collaborating new-borns with fMRI, demonstrating that the associative cortices of the dorsal pathways are surprisingly mature at 8 and even 4 weeks old infants. These data show for the first time the functional localization of cortical areas in human new-borns. These studies together with many others have resulted in 102 paper published in international good and excellent journals.