We investigated experience-dependent plasticity of somatosensory maps in rat S1 cortex during early development. We analyzed both short- and long-term effects of exposure to 2G hypergravity (HG) during the first 3 postnatal weeks on forepaw representations. We also examined the potential of adult somatosensory maps for experience-dependent plasticity after early HG rearing. At postnatal day 22, HG was found to induce an enlargement of cortical zones driven by nail displacements and a contraction of skin sectors of the forepaw map. In these remaining zones serving the skin, neurons displayed expanded glabrous skin receptive fields (RFs). HG also induced a bias in the directional sensitivity of neuronal responses to nail displacement. HG-induced map changes were still found after 16 wk of housing in normogravity (NG). However, the glabrous skin RFs recorded in HG rats decreased to values similar to that of NG rats, as early as the end of the first week of housing in NG. Moreover, the expansion of the glabrous skin area and decrease in RF size normally induced in adults by an enriched environment (EE) did not occur in the HG rats, even after 16 wk of EE housing in NG. Our findings reveal that early postnatal experience critically and durably shapes S1 forepaw maps and limits their potential to be modified by novel experience in adulthood.
- critical period
- electrophysiological mapping
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