Gene expression studies indicate that during activity-dependent developmental plasticity, N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor activation causes a Ca(2+)-dependent increase in expression of transcription factors and their downstream targets. The products of these plasticity genes then operate collectively to bring about the structural and functional changes that underlie ocular dominance plasticity in visual cortex. Identifying and characterizing plasticity genes provides a tool for molecular dissection of the mechanisms involved. Members of second-messenger pathways identified in adult plasticity paradigms and elements of the transmission machinery are the first candidate plasticity genes tested for their role in activity-dependent developmental plasticity. Knockout mice with deletions of such genes have allowed analyzing their function in the context of different systems and in different paradigms. Studies of mutant mice reveal that activity-dependent plasticity is not necessarily a unified phenomenon. The relative importance of a gene can vary with the context of its expression during different forms of plasticity. Forward genetic screens provide additional new candidates for testing, some with well-defined cellular functions that provide insight into possible plasticity mechanisms.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.