Journal of Neurophysiology

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Physiological consequences for the cat's visual cortex of effectively restricting early visual experience with oriented contours

M. P. Stryker, H. Sherk, A. G. Leventhal, H. V. Hirsch


1. The early visual experience of nine cats was restricted to viewing horizontal or vertical lines inside opaque goggles. 2. When the kittens were 3-4 mo old, extracellular recordings were made in the primary visual cortex. To obtain a representative sample of cortical cells, units were studied at regularly spaced intervals along the course of electrode penetrations traveling oblique to the cortical surface. An automated assessment of preferred orientation using a computer-driven optical display was employed, and during the recording session the experimenters did not know which orientation(s) each animal had viewed in early life. 3. In the cats that viewed horizontal lines with one eye and vertical lines with the other during rearing, two major findings of previous workers (14) were confirmed. First, a majority of units were not selective for orientation. Second, units with preferred orientations near vertical tended to be activated exclusively by the eye that had viewed vertical, and likewise for horizontal. 4. In cats that viewed lines of the same orientation with both eyes during rearing, a substantially smaller proportion of units were selective for orientation; the preferred orientations of these units also tended to match the orientation to which the cats had been exposed. 5. Portions of some electrode penetrations showed an orderly arrangement of cells according to preferred orientation similar to that seen in normal cats, but with regions over which only nonselective cells were found. Many penetrations appeared less orderly. 6. The results are consistent with a role for early visual experience in maintaining the responsiveness and innate selectivity of cortical neurons, although they cannot entirely rule out the possibility that experience may alter or determine the preferred orientation of some cells.