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Synaptic Mechanisms underlying Perceptual Learning


Plasticity is a hallmark of the brain, allowing animals to adapt to environmental and behavioural demands throughout life. Understanding the synaptic, cellular, and circuit basis of plasticity is at the heart of neuroscience research, yet its understanding in different forms of learning remains rudimentary. Perceptual Learning (PL) is an implicit form of lifelong learning where the animal improves its perceptual performance with practice. Despite extensive psychophysical research on PL, we have almost no understanding of its cellular and synaptic underpinnings. While the role of synaptic plasticity in learning and memory has been described for some types of learning such as fear-conditioning, is it not clear to what extent similar mechanisms can explain physiological forms of learning such as PL.

The goal of this project is to identify the inhibitory and excitatory synaptic plasticity mechanisms occurring during sensory experience to produce PL. The team’s preliminary data using in vivo electrophysiology and calcium imaging, provides a basis for a general hypothesis to explain frequency shifts of receptive fields toward trained frequencies. The project will provide a strong research environment as well as capacity building and exchange opportunities for graduate students and researchers based in Argentina.

The project is led in Canada by the University of Toronto in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and the Instituto de Investigación en Biomedicina in Argentina.

This project was selected for funding through the fourth research competition of the Joint Canada-Israel Health Research Program. This initiative is a partnership between IDRC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Israel Science Foundation, and the Azrieli Foundation.

Project ID
Project Status
End Date
36 months
IDRC Officer
Fabiano Santos
Total Funding
CA$ 664,161.00
Institution Country
Project Leader
Melanie Woodin
The Governing Council of the University of Toronto