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Influence of experience on orientation maps in cat visual cortex


Experience is known to affect the development of ocular dominance maps in visual cortex, but it has remained controversial whether orientation preference maps are similarly affected by limiting visual experience to a single orientation early in life. Here we used optical imaging based on intrinsic signals to show that the visual cortex of kittens reared in a striped environment responded to all orientations, but devoted up to twice as much surface area to the experienced orientation as the orthogonal one. This effect is due to an instructive role of visual experience whereby some neurons shift their orientation preferences toward the experienced orientation. Thus, although cortical orientation maps are remarkably rigid in the sense that orientations that have never been seen by the animal occupy a large portion of the cortical territory, visual experience can nevertheless alter neuronal responses to oriented contours.

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Figure 1: Iso-orientation maps show an over-representation of the experienced orientation.
Figure 2: Relative representation of orientations in the visual cortex of stripe-reared and normal kittens.
Figure 3: Results of single-neuron recordings in an animal (C16) that had been exposed to stripes of 90°.
Figure 4: Evidence for an instructive role of visual experience.


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We thank Gerhard Brändle for help with image analysis and Iris Kehrer and Frank Brinkmann for technical assistance. Imke Gödecke provided data for some of the control animals. Mark Hübener and Martin Korte made comments on a first version of the manuscript. Donald Mitchell gave advice on rearing cats with goggles. This work was supported by the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.

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Correspondence to Frank Sengpiel.

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Sengpiel, F., Stawinski, P. & Bonhoeffer, T. Influence of experience on orientation maps in cat visual cortex. Nat Neurosci 2, 727–732 (1999).

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