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J Neurosci. 2013 Oct 2;33(40):15747-66. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1037-13.2013.

Mechanisms for stable, robust, and adaptive development of orientation maps in the primary visual cortex.

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Institute for Adaptive and Neural Computation, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9AB, United Kingdom and Unité de Neuroscience, Information et Complexité, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 91198 Gif sur Yvette, France.


Development of orientation maps in ferret and cat primary visual cortex (V1) has been shown to be stable, in that the earliest measurable maps are similar in form to the eventual adult map, robust, in that similar maps develop in both dark rearing and in a variety of normal visual environments, and yet adaptive, in that the final map pattern reflects the statistics of the specific visual environment. How can these three properties be reconciled? Using mechanistic models of the development of neural connectivity in V1, we show for the first time that realistic stable, robust, and adaptive map development can be achieved by including two low-level mechanisms originally motivated from single-neuron results. Specifically, contrast-gain control in the retinal ganglion cells and the lateral geniculate nucleus reduces variation in the presynaptic drive due to differences in input patterns, while homeostatic plasticity of V1 neuron excitability reduces the postsynaptic variability in firing rates. Together these two mechanisms, thought to be applicable across sensory systems in general, lead to biological maps that develop stably and robustly, yet adapt to the visual environment. The modeling results suggest that topographic map stability is a natural outcome of low-level processes of adaptation and normalization. The resulting model is more realistic, simpler, and far more robust, and is thus a good starting point for future studies of cortical map development.

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