Multistable perception is a psychophysical phenomenon in which one unique interpretation alternates spontaneously every few seconds between two or more interpretations of the same sensory input. Well-known examples include the Necker cube and face-vase illusions in vision. Interestingly, young adults generally see more perceptual switches than do elderly people. To understand the underlying neuronal mechanism of age-related multistable perception, we simulated a cortical neural network model that consists of multiple cell assemblies. In the network, a specific population of noncore cells and a common population of core cells form a cell assembly that represents a single object (or event). Every dynamic cell assembly, activated by a given sensory input, involves the common (overlapping) population of core cells. Ambient GABA-mediated intracortical tonic inhibition via extrasynaptic GABAa receptors destabilized the currently appearing dynamic cell assembly and terminated its burst firing. This allowed another dynamic cell assembly to emerge one after the other. Namely, multistable perception took place. Transporters, which were embedded in axon terminal membranes of interneurons, regulated levels of ambient GABA. For elderly people, we assumed a decline in transporter. This decelerated GABA augmentation and resulted in prolonging the durations of burst firing and thus in slowing perceptual switches. We suggest that poor control of ambient GABA levels due to age-related decline in GABA transporter may be responsible for the slowing of perceptual switches in elderly people.

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