Visual experience promotes the isotropic representation of orientation preference.
Within the visual cortex of several mammalian species, more circuitry is devoted to the representation of vertical and horizontal orientations than oblique orientations. The sensitivity of this representation of orientation preference to visual experience during cortical maturation and the overabundance of cardinal contours in the environment suggest that vision promotes the development of this cortical anisotropy. We tested this idea by measuring the distribution of cortical orientation preference and the degree of orientation selectivity in developing normal and dark-reared ferrets using intrinsic signal optical imaging. The area of the angle map of orientation preference representing cardinal and oblique orientations was determined; in addition, orientation selectivity indices were computed separately for cardinal and oblique difference images. In normal juvenile animals, we confirm a small, but statistically significant overrepresentation of near horizontal orientations in the cortical angle map. However, the degree of anisotropy did not increase in the weeks that followed eye opening when orientation selectivity matured; rather, it decreased. In dark-reared ferrets, an even greater cortical anisotropy emerged, but angle maps in these animals developed an apparently anomalous overrepresentation of near vertical orientations. Thus, the overrepresentation of cardinal orientations in the visual cortex does not require experience with an anisotropic visual environment; indeed, cortical anisotropy can develop in the complete absence of vision. These observations suggest that the role of visual experience in cortical maturation is to promote the isotropic representation of orientation preference.
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