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Prior experience enhances plasticity in adult visual cortex


The brain has a remarkable capacity to adapt to alterations in its sensory environment, which is normally much more pronounced in juvenile animals. Here we show that in adult mice, the ability to adapt to changes can be improved profoundly if the mouse has already experienced a similar change in its sensory environment earlier in life. Using the standard model for sensory plasticity in mouse visual cortex—ocular dominance (OD) plasticity—we found that a transient shift in OD, induced by monocular deprivation (MD) earlier in life, renders the adult visual cortex highly susceptible to subsequent MD many weeks later. Irrespective of whether the first MD was experienced during the critical period (around postnatal day 28) or in adulthood, OD shifts induced by a second MD were faster, more persistent and specific to repeated deprivation of the same eye. The capacity for plasticity in the mammalian cortex can therefore be conditioned by past experience.

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Figure 1: Retinotopic mapping of mouse binocular visual cortex using optical imaging of intrinsic signals.
Figure 2: MD during the critical period facilitates OD plasticity in adult mice.
Figure 3: OD plasticity in adult visual cortex can be assessed reliably with intrinsic signal imaging and electrophysiology.
Figure 4: Previous MD in adult mice facilitates subsequent OD plasticity.
Figure 5: Facilitatory effect of repeated MD is eye specific.


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We thank A. King for comments on the manuscript and M. Sperling for computing help. This work was supported by the Max Planck Society (S.B.H., T.D.M.-F., T.B. and M.H.) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (T.D.M.-F.).

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Correspondence to Mark Hübener.

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Hofer, S., Mrsic-Flogel, T., Bonhoeffer, T. et al. Prior experience enhances plasticity in adult visual cortex. Nat Neurosci 9, 127–132 (2006).

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