• brain-derived neurotrophic factor;
  • cat visual cortex;
  • development;
  • nerve growth factor;
  • ocular dominance plasticity;
  • optical imaging;
  • single-cell recording


In the present study we examine the influence of neurotrophins on experience-dependent synaptic rearrangement in developing and adult visual cortex. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) or nerve growth factor (NGF) was continuously infused into cortical area 18, and the functional architecture of the cortex was examined by use of optical and electrophysiological recording techniques. In kittens, BDNF infusion during monocular deprivation (MD) reversed the normally occurring ocular dominance (OD) shift towards the non-deprived eye so that the deprived eye dominated the BDNF-treated cortex after MD. Under conditions of equal activation of thalamocortical synapses, i.e. when animals were either subject to binocular deprivation (BD) or reared without deprivation, BDNF infusion did not disrupt binocularity of cortical units, but reversed the natural OD bias towards the contralateral eye in favour of the ipsilateral eye. In addition, BDNF treatment in kittens led to a loss of the orientation selectivity of cortical units irrespective of rearing conditions. In adult animals, BDNF influenced neither OD distributions nor orientation selectivity. The effect of NGF was markedly different. It was ineffective in kittens but in adult animals it caused a shift of OD towards the deprived eye when MD was combined with NGF infusion. However, in this case orientation selectivity was preserved. Thus, both neurotrophins have profound activity- and age-dependent effects on the functional architecture of the visual cortex. Moreover, our results indicate that simple substitution of neurotrophins in excess is unlikely to compensate for deprivation effects by preserving or restoring the normal functional architecture of the cortex.