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J Neurosci. 2003 Jan 1;23(1):358-66.

Experience-dependent plasticity is impaired in adult rat barrel cortex after whiskers are unused in early postnatal life.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee 37240, USA.


The capacity of adult barrel cortex to show experience-dependent plasticity after early restricted neonatal sensory deprivation was analyzed in barrel field cortex neurons. Selective sensory deprivation was induced by trimming two whiskers from postnatal day 0 (P0) to P21, namely, the principal D2 whisker plus one adjacent surround whisker (D3). At maturity (P90), responses of supragranular (layer II/III) and barrel (layer IV) neurons, all located in the D2 barrel column, were analyzed for modified responses to the deprived principal whisker (D2) and the nondeprived (D1) and deprived (D3) adjacent surround whiskers. For supragranular neurons, the responses to both principal and surround whiskers were reduced at maturity, whereas the barrel neurons showed mildly elevated responses to the principal whisker but a reduced response to the deprived surround whisker. In normal adult rats, trimming all but the principal D2 whisker and an adjacent D3 whisker for 3 d (whisker pairing) produced the expected bias: elevated responses from the intact D3 compared with the cut D1 whisker in both barrel and supragranular neurons. When the neonatally deprived D2 and D3 whiskers were paired at maturity, a similar D3/D1 bias was generated in barrel neurons, but no bias occurred in supragranular neuron responses. Pairing the maintained D1 and deprived D2 whiskers produced a much greater bias toward D1 compared with the deprived D3 whisker in barrel neurons than in supragranular neurons. There were minimal effects on response latencies in layer IV under any of the experimental conditions. These findings indicate that a restricted period of sensory deprivation in early postnatal life (1) impairs intracortical relay of deprived inputs from layer IV to layer II/III in barrel cortex at maturity and (2) degrades receptive field plasticity of the supragranular layer cells but not the thalamic-recipient barrel neurons.

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