Few pairings of electrical micro-stimulation of the ventral tegmental area and a visual stimulus enhance visual cortical responses.
Previous studies demonstrated that pairing a visual stimulus and electrical micro-stimulation of the ventral tegmental area (VTA-EM) for multiple days is sufficient to induce visual cortical plasticity and changes perception. However, a brief epoch of VTA-EM stimulus pairing within a single day has been shown to result in a behavioral preference for the paired stimulus. Here, we investigated whether a brief single-day session of VTA-EM-stimulus pairings is sufficient to induce changes in visual cortical responses. We examined macaque posterior inferior temporal cortex (PIT) since previous studies demonstrated response changes after VTA-EM stimulus pairing in that area. Multi-unit recordings in PIT were interleaved with VTA-EM-stimulus pairing epochs. During the short VTA-EM-stimulus pairing epochs (60 pairings), one image (fractal) was paired with VTA-EM (STIM) while another, unpaired fractal was presented as control (CON). Two other fractals (dummies) were presented only during the recordings. The difference in response between the STIM and CON fractals already increased after the first VTA-EM-stimulus pairing epoch, reflecting a relative increase of the response to the STIM fractal. However, the response to the STIM fractal did not increase further with more VTA-EM-stimulus pairing epochs. The relative increase in firing rate for the paired fractal was present early in the response, in line with a local/bottom-up origin. These effects were absent when comparing the responses to the dummies pre-and post-VTA-EM. This study shows that pairing a visual image and VTA-EM in a brief single-day session is sufficient to increase the response for the paired image in macaque PIT.