Development of human visual cortex: A balance between excitatory and inhibitory plasticity mechanisms
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Formation of neural circuitry in the developing visual cortex is shaped by experience during the critical period. A number of mechanisms, including N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activation and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-mediated inhibition, are crucial in determining onset and closure of the critical period for visual plasticity. Animal models have shown that a threshold level of tonic inhibition must be reached for critical period plasticity to occur and that NMDA receptors contribute to Hebbian synaptic plasticity in the developing visual cortex. There are a number of developmental changes in these glutamatergic and GABAergic mechanisms that have been linked to plasticity; however, those changes have been shown only in animal models, and their development in the human visual cortex is not known. We have addressed this question by studying the expression of the major glutamatergic receptors, GABA(A) receptors, and glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) isoforms during the first 6 years of postnatal development of human visual cortex. There are significant changes in the expression of these proteins during postnatal development of human visual cortex. The time course of the changes is quite prolonged and suggests that it may set the pace for the prolonged critical period in human visual development. The changes also affect the nature of spatial and temporal integration in visual cortical neurons and thereby contribute to the maturation of visual functions.
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