Letters to Nature

Nature 411, 1049-1052 (28 June 2001) | doi:10.1038/35082568; Received 17 January 2001; Accepted 4 May 2001

The contribution of sensory experience to the maturation of orientation selectivity in ferret visual cortex

Leonard E. White1,2, David M. Coppola3 & David Fitzpatrick1

  1. Department of Neurobiology,
  2. Department of Community and Family Medicine, Division of Physical Therapy, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA
  3. Department of Biology, Centenary College, Shreveport, Louisiana 71134, USA

Correspondence to: Leonard E. White1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to L.E.W. (e-mail: Email: white033@mc.duke.edu).

Sensory experience begins when neural circuits in the cerebral cortex are still immature; however, the contribution of experience to cortical maturation remains unclear. In the visual cortex, the selectivity of neurons for oriented stimuli at the time of eye opening is poor1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and increases dramatically after the onset of visual experience3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Here we investigate whether visual experience has a significant role in the maturation of orientation selectivity and underlying cortical circuits9, 10, 11, 12 using two forms of deprivation: dark rearing, which completely eliminates experience, and binocular lid suture, which alters the pattern of sensory driven activity13. Orientation maps were present in dark-reared ferrets, but fully mature levels of tuning were never attained. In contrast, only rudimentary levels of orientation selectivity were observed in lid-sutured ferrets. Despite these differences, horizontal connections in both groups were less extensive and less clustered than normal, suggesting that long-range cortical processing is not essential for the expression of orientation selectivity, but may be needed for the full maturation of tuning. Thus, experience is beneficial or highly detrimental to cortical maturation, depending on the pattern of sensory driven activity.