Functional correlates of immediate early gene expression in mouse visual cortex

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During visual development, response properties of layer 2/3 neurons in visual cortex are shaped by experience. Both visual and visuomotor experience are necessary to coordinate the integration of bottom-up visual input and top-down motor-related input. Whether visual and visuomotor experience engage different plasticity mechanisms, possibly associated with the two separate input pathways, is still unclear. To begin addressing this, we measured the expression level of three different immediate early genes (IEG) (c-fos, egr1 or Arc) and neuronal activity in layer 2/3 neurons of visual cortex before and after a mouse’s first visual exposure in life, and subsequent visuomotor learning. We found that expression levels of all three IEGs correlated positively with neuronal activity, but that first visual and first visuomotor exposure resulted in differential changes in IEG expression patterns. In addition, IEG expression levels differed depending on whether neurons exhibited primarily visually driven or motor-related activity. Neurons with strong motor-related activity preferentially expressed EGR1, while neurons that developed strong visually driven activity preferentially expressed Arc. Our findings are consistent with the interpretation that bottom-up visual input and top-down motor-related input are associated with different IEG expression patterns and hence possibly also with different plasticity pathways.

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