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FASEB J. 2007 Jan;21(1):130-9. Epub 2006 Nov 29.

Retinal functional development is sensitive to environmental enrichment: a role for BDNF.

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  • 1Laboratorio di Neurobiologia, Scuola Normale Superiore c/o Istituto di Neuroscienze del CNR, Via G. Moruzzi, 1, 56100 Pisa, Italy. landi@in.cnr.it


Retina has long been considered less plastic than cortex or hippocampus, the very sites of experience-dependent plasticity. Now, we show that retinal development is responsive to the experience provided by an enriched environment (EE): the maturation of retinal acuity, which is a sensitive index of retinal circuitry development, is strongly accelerated in EE rats. This effect is present also in rats exposed to EE up to P10, that is before eye opening, suggesting that factors sufficient to trigger retinal acuity development are affected by EE during the first days of life. Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is precociously expressed in the ganglion cell layer of EE with respect to non-EE rats and reduction of BDNF expression in EE animals counteracts EE effects on retinal acuity. Thus, EE controls the development of retinal circuitry, and this action depends on retinal BDNF expression.

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