The scientists then carried out a process known as monocular visual deprivation, in which they blocked the visual signals to one eye in each of the animals for four days. When this process is carried out during the critical period, cells in the visual cortex quickly become less responsive to the eye deprived of sensory input, and become more responsive to the non-deprived eye, creating alterations in the neural circuitry. This phenomenon, known as ocular dominance plasticity, greatly diminishes as the brain matures past this critical postnatal developmental period.
The team wanted to see if the transplanted cells would affect the visual system's response to the visual deprivation after the critical period. They studied the cells' effects after allowing them to mature for varying lengths of time. When the cells were as young as 17 days old or as old as 43 days old, they had little impact on the neural circuitry of the region. However, when they were 33-39 days old, their impact was significant. During that time, monocular visual deprivation shifted the neural responses away from the deprived eye and toward the non-deprived eye, revealing the state of ocular dominance plasticity.
Naturally occurring, or endogenous, inhibitory neurons are also around 33-39 days old when the normal critical period for plasticity occurs. Thus, the transplanted cells' impact occurred once they had reached the cellular age of inhibitory neurons during the normal critical period.
The finding, the team says, suggests that the normal critical period of plasticity in the visual cortex is regulated by a developmental program intrinsic to inhibitory neurons, and that embryonic inhibitory neuron precursors can retain and execute this progr
|Contact: Jennifer O'Brien|
University of California - San Francisco