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Bring on the #cyborg #rats! The idea that we might be able to augment our senses with a #neuroprosthesis is tantalizing for an obvious reason, it seems to offer the possibility that we can be more than what we are. The authors of this study wanted to know if rats could learn to make use of an externally provided directional signal in the absence of visual information for #navigation. To ask this question, they implanted a device with stimulating #electrodes contacting the left and right primary visual #corticies of blind adult rats. This device stimulated left visual #cortex when the animal was facing north, and the right when it was facing south. They then compared performance in a classic “T-maze”, in which food is placed consistently in one arm of a “T”, and the animal must choose which arm of the T to go down to get the food reward. Impressively, after just one day of practice with the device powered on, the rats’ performance lept up from chance levels to a high rate of success. It is important to recognize that the success of this work may be due to the fact that the external sensor supplied information that the animal makes use of naturally. It was a spatially structured signal helping the animal do something that it is already “wired” to do (navigate an environment based on cues about which direction it’s heading). Would it have worked if the rats had to use an external sensor of barometric pressure to try and predict tomorrow’s weather instead? Who knows… #science #neuroscience #cell #currbiol http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(15)00265-1