Mice actively explore their environment by rhythmically sweeping their whiskers. As a consequence, neuronal activity in somatosensory pathways is modulated by the frequency of whisker movement. The potential role of rhythmic neuronal activity for the integration and consolidation of sensory signals, however, remains unexplored. Here, we show that a brief period of rhythmic whisker stimulation in anesthetized mice resulted in a frequency-specific long-lasting increase in the amplitude of somatosensory-evoked potentials in the contralateral primary somatosensory (barrel) cortex. Mapping of evoked potentials and intracortical recordings revealed that, in addition to potentiation in layers IV and II/III of the barrel cortex, rhythmic whisker stimulation induced a decrease of somatosensory-evoked responses in the supragranular layers of the motor cortex. To assess whether rhythmic sensory input-based plasticity might arise in natural settings, we exposed mice to environmental enrichment. We found that it resulted in somatosensory-evoked responses of increased amplitude, highlighting the influence of previous sensory experience in shaping sensory responses. Importantly, environmental enrichment-induced plasticity occluded further potentiation by rhythmic stimulation, indicating that both phenomena share common mechanisms. Overall, our results suggest that natural, rhythmic patterns of whisker activity can modify the cerebral processing of sensory information, providing a possible mechanism for learning during sensory perception.
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