Background: Short monocular deprivation (4 days) induces a shift in the ocular dominance of binocular neurons in the juvenile mouse visual cortex but is ineffective in adults. Recently, it has been shown that an ocular dominance shift can still be elicited in young adults (around 90 days of age) by longer periods of deprivation (7 days). Whether the same is true also for fully mature animals is not yet known.
Methodology/principal findings: We therefore studied the effects of different periods of monocular deprivation (4, 7, 14 days) on ocular dominance in C57Bl/6 mice of different ages (25 days, 90-100 days, 109-158 days, 208-230 days) using optical imaging of intrinsic signals. In addition, we used a virtual optomotor system to monitor visual acuity of the open eye in the same animals during deprivation. We observed that ocular dominance plasticity after 7 days of monocular deprivation was pronounced in young adult mice (90-100 days) but significantly weaker already in the next age group (109-158 days). In animals older than 208 days, ocular dominance plasticity was absent even after 14 days of monocular deprivation. Visual acuity of the open eye increased in all age groups, but this interocular plasticity also declined with age, although to a much lesser degree than the optically detected ocular dominance shift.
Conclusions/significance: These data indicate that there is an age-dependence of both ocular dominance plasticity and the enhancement of vision after monocular deprivation in mice: ocular dominance plasticity in binocular visual cortex is most pronounced in young animals, reduced but present in adolescence and absent in fully mature animals older than 110 days of age. Mice are thus not basically different in ocular dominance plasticity from cats and monkeys which is an absolutely essential prerequisite for their use as valid model systems of human visual disorders.