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Neuron. 2013 Oct 2;80(1):198-209. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.07.023. Epub 2013 Sep 5.

Environmental enrichment rescues binocular matching of orientation preference in mice that have a precocious critical period.

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Department of Neurobiology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA; Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


Experience shapes neural circuits during critical periods in early life. The timing of critical periods is regulated by both genetics and the environment. Here we study the functional significance of such temporal regulations in the mouse primary visual cortex, where critical period plasticity drives binocular matching of orientation preference. We find that the binocular matching is permanently disrupted in mice that have a precocious critical period due to genetically enhanced inhibition. The disruption is specific to one type of neuron, the complex cells, which, as we reveal, normally match after the simple cells. Early environmental enrichment completely rescues the deficit by inducing histone acetylation and consequently advancing the matching process to coincide with the precocious plasticity. Our experiments thus demonstrate that the proper timing of the critical period is essential for establishing normal binocularity and the detrimental impact of its genetic misregulation can be ameliorated by environmental manipulations via epigenetic mechanisms.

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