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J Neurosci. 2007 Mar 28;27(13):3456-65.

Sensory experience alters cortical connectivity and synaptic function site specifically.

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  • 1Medical Research Council Centre for Neurodegeneration Research, King's College London, London SE5 8AF, United Kingdom.


Neocortical circuitry can alter throughout life with experience. However, the contributions of changes in synaptic strength and modifications in neuronal wiring to experience-dependent plasticity in mature animals remain unclear. We trimmed whiskers of rats and made electrophysiological recordings after whisker cortical maps have developed. Measurements of miniature EPSPs suggested that synaptic inputs to layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons were altered at the junction of deprived and spared cortex in primary somatosensory cortex. Whole-cell recordings were made from pairs of synaptically connected pyramidal neurons to investigate possible changes in local excitatory connections between layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons. The neurons were filled with fluorescent dyes during recording and reconstructed in three dimensions using confocal microscopy and image deconvolution to identify putative synapses. We show that sensory deprivation induces a striking reduction in connectivity between layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons in deprived cortex without large-scale, compensatory increases in the strength of remaining local excitatory connections. A markedly different situation occurs in spared cortex. Connection strength is potentiated, but local excitatory connectivity and synapse number per connection are unchanged. Our data suggest that alterations in local excitatory circuitry enhance the expansion of spared representations into deprived cortex. Moreover, our findings offer one explanation for how the responses of spared and deprived cortex to sensory deprivation can be dissociated in developed animals.

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