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Neuroscience. 1999;91(1):163-73.

A new form of synaptic plasticity is transiently expressed in the developing rat visual cortex: a modulatory role for visual experience and brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

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International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), Neuroscience Program, Trieste, Italy.


Synaptic plasticity has been implicated in the mechanisms contributing to the shaping of the cortical circuits responsible for the transmission of the visual input in the rat primary visual cortex. However, the degree of plasticity of the thalamocortical synapse may change during development, perhaps reflecting the degree of stabilization of the circuitry subserving it. We have chosen the ability of this synapse to be first depressed and then potentiated as a specific indicator of its plasticity. In this study we have investigated how this parameter changes during development and the factors controlling it. Extracellular field potentials in cortical layers 2/3 were evoked by stimulation of the white matter in rat primary visual cortex slices prepared at different postnatal ages. Low-frequency stimulation (900 pulses at 1 Hz) of the white matter was used to induce long-term depression of field potential amplitude, whereas long-term potentiation was evoked by high-frequency stimulation consisting of three trains at 100 Hz. We provide evidence that while it is possible to potentiate previously depressed synapses soon after eye opening (postnatal day 17) this synaptic characteristic decreases rapidly thereafter. The decrease in this form of cortical synaptic plasticity closely matches the stabilization of the cortical circuitry towards an adult pattern of connectivity and function. Depressed cortical synapses cannot be potentiated in normal rats at postnatal 23, but they can be potentiated in rats reared in the dark from postnatal days 17 to 29. Moreover, application of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, known to be expressed in an activity-dependent manner, was able to restore the ability of synapses to be potentiated after long-term depression, thus indicating its important modulatory role in brain development.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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