Non-uniform distribution of the NMDAR1 receptor subunit in kitten visual cortex at the peak of the critical period.
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PURPOSE: The development of columnar systems in the visual cortex, in particular ocular dominance columns, is dependent on experiential activity in conjunction with NMDA-mediated plasticity mechanisms. Recent experiments, however, have shown that certain aspects of the columnar organization of the visual cortex, such as the spacing of columns, are not changed by manipulations that affect the pattern of retinal activity. This raises the possibility that features intrinsic to the visual cortex may play a crucial role in the development of cortical columns and that a non-uniform distribution of NMDA receptors in the developing visual cortex could form the link between activity and intrinsic cortical modularity. METHODS: To examine this possibility we used immunohistochemical techniques to label the NMDAR1 receptor subunit protein in kitten visual cortex. The arrangement of the NMDAR1 subunit was visualized (using a monoclonal antibody) in flattened and coronal sections through visual cortex. The tangential and laminar distributions of NMDAR1 immunoreactivity (NMDAR1ir) were studied at the peak of the critical period for plasticity (4-5 weeks of age) in the developing kitten visual cortex. RESULTS: At the ages examined there was a non-uniform distribution of NMDAR1 immunoreactivity in the visual cortex. These patches of darker NMDAR1 label were found in layers 2/3 and extended up into layer 1. Thus, during development neurons expressing the NMDAR1 receptor subunit were distributed in a patchy fashion in the upper layers of the kitten visual cortex. CONCLUSIONS: This suggests that NMDA-mediated activity-dependent plasticity may not occur uniformly across the tangential extent of the visual cortex, and raises the possibility that the arrangement of NMDAR1 patches may guide the emergence of nascent columns in the developing visual cortex.
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