A new study, published in this week’s Nature, that helps tease apart the role of single cells in the neural circuit controlling vision is helping researchers understand neuronal plasticity, whereby new experiences can ‘shape’ neural networks.
Takao Hensch and colleagues analyzed activity within individual nerve cells found in the visual circuit of mice allowed to see through one eye. Paradoxically, one group of cells initially biased their response preference towards the ‘blind’ eye, only later shifting to the open eye. The effect seems due to the ever-shifting balance between excitation and inhibition influencing the activity of individual neurons. So this subtype of inhibitory circuit releasing the neurotransmitter GABA may play a major role in shaping experience-dependent plasticity in the developing visual cortex. Since the same class of neuron is impaired in cognitive developmental disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, these findings may potentially inform a circuit-based therapeutic strategy.
Fast-spiking GABA cells fire characteristic thin action potentials at high frequency and exhibit unique morphology. The present study revealed their paradoxical plasticity in favor of an eye deprived of vision in the developing visual cortex