Background: Several recent studies have highlighted the important role of immunity-related molecules in synaptic plasticity processes in the developing and adult mammalian brains. It has been suggested that neuronal MHCI (major histocompatibility complex class I) genes play a role in the refinement and pruning of synapses in the developing visual system. As a fast evolutionary rate may generate distinct properties of molecules in different mammalian species, we studied the expression of MHCI molecules in a nonhuman primate, the common marmoset monkey (Callithrix jacchus).
Methods and results: Analysis of expression levels of MHCI molecules in the developing visual cortex of the common marmoset monkeys revealed a distinct spatio-temporal pattern. High levels of expression were detected very early in postnatal development, at a stage when synaptogenesis takes place and ocular dominance columns are formed. To determine whether the expression of MHCI molecules is regulated by retinal activity, animals were subjected to monocular enucleation. Levels of MHCI heavy chain subunit transcripts in the visual cortex were found to be elevated in response to monocular enucleation. Furthermore, MHCI heavy chain immunoreactivity revealed a banded pattern in layer IV of the visual cortex in enucleated animals, which was not observed in control animals. This pattern of immunoreactivity indicated that higher expression levels were associated with retinal activity coming from the intact eye.
Conclusions: These data demonstrate that, in the nonhuman primate brain, expression of MHCI molecules is regulated by neuronal activity. Moreover, this study extends previous findings by suggesting a role for neuronal MHCI molecules during synaptogenesis in the visual cortex.