Transplant of Schwann Cells Allows Normal Development of the Visual Cortex of Dark-reared Rats



Visual experience is necessary for the correct development of the visual cortex. Dark-rearing from birth affects normal maturation of the functional properties of mammalian visual cortex: cortical cells show rapid habituation to repeated stimulation, decreased orientation selectivity, and enlarged receptive fields. Spatial resolution and response latency are also impaired. Recent experiments have demonstrated that visual deprivation reduces the expression of neurotrophins in the visual cortex. We formulated the hypothesis that visual experience drives the maturation of functional properties of the visual cortex by regulating cortical levels of neurotrophins. If this hypothesis is correct, exogenous supply of neurotrophins during dark-rearing from birth should prevent, or at least ameliorate, the effects of a lack of visual experience. Since Schwann cells are efficient biological minipumps of neurotrophic factors, we transplanted 1.0 or 1.5 × 106 Schwann cells or infused vehicle solution as a control into the lateral ventricles of 13 day old rats reared in total darkness from birth until the end of the critical period (postnatal day 45). Single-cell responses and visual-evoked potentials were recorded from the binocular zone of the primary visual cortex of each group. We found that in Schwann cell-transplanted animals all parameters tested were significantly improved upon those of dark-reared control rats and were in the range of normal adult values. Thus, Schwann cell transplant contributed to the normal development of visual response properties in the visual cortex, compensating for a complete absence of visual experience.