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Visual activity is required to maintain the phenotype of supragranular NPY neurons in rat area 17


Correspondence: Prof. Petra Wahle, E-mail:


Visual activity governs the functional maturation of the mammalian visual cortex. We report here, that visual experience is required for stabilizing the phenotype of a subset of cortical interneurons. Neurons expressing neuropeptide Y mRNA (NPY neurons) display a transiently higher expression in the early postnatal visual areas 18a and 17 that is followed by a phenotype restriction during the second postnatal month: about 50% of the NPY neurons in supragranular and infragranular layers of area 18a, and in infragranular layers of area 17 gradually stop the NPY expression. In contrast, the expression remains unchanged in supragranular layers of area 17. Dark rearing rats from birth to up to 100 days does neither prevent the developmental onset of NPY mRNA expression, nor does it prevent the phenotype restriction from occurring. In contrast, in dark reared animals NPY neurons in supragranular layers of area 17 now also undergo a phenotype restriction. Returning animals to light after variable periods of darkness results in an upregulation of NPY mRNA expression selectively in neurons in supragranular layers of area 17. These neurons acquire a constitutive expression during the second postnatal month. This suggests that the phenotypic specification of a distinct subset of cortical interneurons is regulated by visual experience which thus influences on the maturation of the neurochemical architecture of area 17.