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Image: Duke Univ. Medical CenterSensory neuroprostheses show great potential for alleviating major sensory deficits. It is not known, however, whether such devices can augment the subject’s normal perceptual range.

But now, researchers have shown that adult rats can learn to perceive otherwise invisible infrared light through a neuroprosthesis that couples the output of a head-mounted infrared sensor to their somatosensory cortex (S1) via intracortical microstimulation.

Rats readily learn to use this new information source, and generate active exploratory strategies to discriminate among infrared sources in their environment. S1 neurons in these infrared-perceiving rats respond to both whisker deflection and intracortical microstimulation, suggesting that the infrared representation does not displace the original tactile representation. Hence, sensory cortical prostheses, in addition to restoring normal neurological functions, may serve to expand natural perceptual capabilities in mammals.

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