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Nature. 1986 Nov 13-19;324(6093):154-6.

Ocular dominance shift in kitten visual cortex caused by imbalance in retinal electrical activity.


Monocular lid suture during the sensitive period early in the life of a kitten disrupts normal development of inputs from the two eyes to the visual cortex, causing a decrease in the fraction of cortical cells responding to the deprived eye. Such an ocular dominance shift has been assumed to depend on patterned visual experience, because no change in cortical physiology is produced by inequalities between the two eyes in retinal illumination or temporally modulated diffuse light stimulation. A higher-level process, involving gating signals from areas outside striate cortex, has been proposed to ensure that sustained changes in synaptic efficacy occur only in response to behaviourally significant visual inputs. To test whether such a process is necessary for ocular dominance plasticity, we treated 4-week-old kittens with visual deprivation and monocular tetrodotoxin (TTX) injections to create an imbalance in the electrical activities of the two retinas in the absence of patterned vision. After 1 week of treatment we determined the ocular dominance distribution of single units in primary visual cortex. In all kittens studied, a significant ocular dominance shift was found. In addition to this physiological change, there was an anatomical change in the lateral geniculate nucleus, where cells were larger in laminae receiving input from the more active eye. Our results indicate that patterned vision is not necessary for visual cortical plasticity, and that an imbalance in spontaneous retinal activity alone can produce a significant ocular dominance shift.

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