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J Neurosci. 1999 Sep 15;19(18):7951-70.

A neurotrophic model of the development of the retinogeniculocortical pathway induced by spontaneous retinal waves.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, United Kingdom.


The development of the retinogeniculate pathway or the geniculocortical pathway, or both, occurs either before birth or before eye opening in many species. It is widely believed that spontaneous retinal activity could drive the segregation of afferents into eye-specific laminae or columns and the refinement of initially diffuse receptive fields and the emergence of orderly, retinotopic organization. We show that a recent computational model that generates a phenomenologically accurate representation of spontaneous retinal activity can indeed drive afferent segregation and, more particularly, topographic and receptive field refinement in the retinogeniculocortical system. We use a model of anatomical synaptic plasticity based on recent data suggesting that afferents might compete for limited amounts of retrograde neurotrophic factors (NTFs). We find that afferent segregation and receptive field formation are disrupted in the presence of exogenous NTFs. We thus predict that infusion of NTFs into the lateral geniculate nucleus should disrupt normal development and that the infusion of such factors into the striate cortex should disrupt receptive field refinement in addition to the well known disruption of ocular dominance column (ODC) formation. To demonstrate that the capacity of our model of plasticity to drive normal development is not restricted just to spontaneous retinal activity, we also use a coarse representation of visually evoked activity in some simulations. We find that such simulations can exhibit the formation of ODCs followed by their disappearance, reminiscent of the New World marmoset. A decrease in interocular correlations stabilizes these ODCs. Thus we predict that divergent strabismus should render marmoset ODCs stable into adulthood.

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