Recent studies have proposed roles for neurotrophins in the formation and plasticity of ocular dominance columns as well as in the regulation of dendritic arborization in visual cortex of higher mammals. To assess potential roles for neurotrophins in these processes, we have examined the developmental expression of BDNF and NT-3 mRNA in the cat's visual system using in situ hybridization. BDNF and NT-3 mRNAs are dynamically regulated in many CNS structures during embryonic and postnatal development, and both mRNAs undergo striking developmental changes in laminar specificity and levels of expression within primary visual cortex during the critical period for ocular dominance column formation. Within visual cortex, BDNF mRNA is found in neurons in deep cortical layers (5 and 6) prior to eye opening, and in both deep and superficial layers (2 and 3) shortly afterwards. Within layer 4, the target of thalamocortical axons, BDNF mRNA is low initially and rises to high levels by the end of the critical period for ocular dominance column formation. NT-3 mRNA is first detectable in small stellate neurons at the base of layer 4 (4c) after eye opening, and levels decrease near the end of the critical period. BDNF and NT-3 mRNAs can be detected in the lateral geniculate nucleus at birth, and levels peak during the critical period. In both structures, BDNF mRNA expression is maintained into adulthood, while NT-3 is undetectable in the adult. The presence and dynamic regulation of these neurotrophins in visual structures is consistent with suggested roles for both of these neurotrophins in axonal and dendritic remodeling known to accompany the formation of ocular dominance columns.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.