The Role of Visual Experience in the Development of Columns in Cat Visual Cortex

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Science  23 Jan 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5350, pp. 566-570
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5350.566

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The role of experience in the development of the cerebral cortex has long been controversial. Patterned visual experience in the cat begins when the eyes open about a week after birth. Cortical maps for orientation and ocular dominance in the primary visual cortex of cats were found to be present by 2 weeks. Early pattern vision appeared unimportant because these cortical maps developed identically until nearly 3 weeks of age, whether or not the eyes were open. The naı̈ve maps were powerfully dominated by the contralateral eye, and experience was needed for responses to the other eye to become strong, a process unlikely to be strictly Hebbian. With continued visual deprivation, responses to both eyes deteriorated, with a time course parallel to the well-known critical period of cortical plasticity. The basic structure of cortical maps is therefore innate, but experience is essential for specific features of these maps, as well as for maintaining the responsiveness and selectivity of cortical neurons.

  • * Present address: Division of Neuroscience and Program in Developmental Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA.

  • To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: stryker{at}

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