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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1989 Jun;86(11):4297-301.

Synaptogenesis in visual cortex of normal and preterm monkeys: evidence for intrinsic regulation of synaptic overproduction.

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Section of Neuroanatomy, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510.


We used quantitative electron microscopy to determine the effect of precocious visual experience on the time course, magnitude, and pattern of perinatal synaptic overproduction in the primary visual cortex of the rhesus monkey. Fetuses were delivered by caesarean section 3 weeks before term, exposed to normal light intensity and day/night cycles, and killed within the first postnatal month, together with age-matched controls that were delivered at term. We found that premature visual stimulation does not affect the rate of synaptic accretion and overproduction. Both of these processes proceed in relation to the time of conception rather than to the time of delivery. In contrast, the size, type, and laminar distribution of synapses were significantly different between preterm and control infants. The changes and differences in these parameters correlate with the duration of visual stimulation and become less pronounced with age. If visual experience in infancy influences the maturation of the visual cortex, it must do so predominantly by strengthening, modifying, and/or eliminating synapses that have already been formed, rather than by regulating the rate of synapse production.

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