A cellular analogue of visual cortical plasticity

Neuronal activity plays an important role in the development of the visual pathway. The modulation of synaptic transmission by temporal correlation between pre- and postsynaptic activity is one mechanism which could underly visual cortical plasticity1–4. We report here that functional changes in single neurons of area 17, analogous to those known to take place during epigenesis of visual cortex5,6, can be induced experimentally during the time of record? ing. This was done by a differential pairing procedure, during which iontophoresis was used to artificially increase the visual response for a given stimulus, and to decrease (or block) the response for a second stimulus which differed in ocularity or orientation. Long-term modifications in ocular dominance and orientation selectivity were produced in 33% and 43% of recorded cells respectively. Neuronal selectivity was nearly always displaced towards the stimulus paired with the reinforced visual response. The largest changes were obtained at the peak of the critical period in normally reared and visually deprived kittens, but changes were also observed in adults. Our findings support the role of temporal correlation between pre- and postsynaptic activity in the induction of long-lasting modifications of synaptic transmission during development, and in associative learning.

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