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Moving visual stimuli rapidly induce direction sensitivity of developing tectal neurons


During development of the visual system, the pattern of visual inputs may have an instructive role in refining developing neural circuits1,2,3,4. How visual inputs of specific spatiotemporal patterns shape the circuit development remains largely unknown. We report here that, in the developing Xenopus retinotectal system, the receptive field of tectal neurons can be ‘trained’ to become direction-sensitive within minutes after repetitive exposure of the retina to moving bars in a particular direction. The induction of direction-sensitivity depends on the speed of the moving bar, can not be induced by random visual stimuli, and is accompanied by an asymmetric modification of the tectal neuron's receptive field. Furthermore, such training-induced changes require spiking of the tectal neuron and activation of a NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartate) subtype of glutamate receptors during training, and are attributable to an activity-induced enhancement of glutamate-mediated inputs. Thus, developing neural circuits can be modified rapidly and specifically by visual inputs of defined spatiotemporal patterns, in a manner consistent with predictions based on spike-time-dependent synaptic modification.

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Figure 1: Mapping the receptive field of developing Xenopus tectal neurons.
Figure 2: Selective enhancement of tectal cell responses by training with a moving bar.
Figure 3: Effect of training with stimuli of different spatiotemporal patterns.
Figure 4: Asymmetric modification of the tectal receptive field by training with moving stimuli.
Figure 5: Synaptic mechanisms.


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This work was supported by grants from NSF and NIH. F.E. was supported in part by a long-term fellowship from the Human Frontier Science Program.

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Correspondence to Mu-ming Poo.

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Engert, F., Tao, H., Zhang, L. et al. Moving visual stimuli rapidly induce direction sensitivity of developing tectal neurons. Nature 419, 470–475 (2002).

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