Animal model studies of amblyopia have generally concluded that enduring effects of monocular deprivation (MD) on visual behavior (i.e., loss of visual acuity) are limited to the deprived eye, and are restricted to juvenile life. We have previously reported, however, that lasting effects of MD on visual function can be elicited in adulthood by stimulating visuomotor experience through the non-deprived eye. To test whether stimulating experience would also induce interocular plasticity of vision in infancy, we assessed in rats from eye-opening on postnatal day (P) 15, the effect of pairing MD with the daily experience of measuring thresholds for optokinetic tracking (OKT). MD with visuomotor experience from P15 to P25 led to a ~60% enhancement of the spatial frequency threshold for OKT through the non-deprived eye during the deprivation, which was followed by loss-of-function (~60% below normal) through both eyes when the deprived eye was opened. Reduced thresholds were maintained into adulthood with binocular OKT experience from P25 to P30. The ability to generate the plasticity and maintain lost function was dependent on visual cortex. Strictly limiting the period of deprivation to infancy by opening the deprived eye at P19 resulted in a comparable loss-of-function. Animals with reduced OKT responses also had significantly reduced visual acuity, measured independently in a discrimination task. Thus, experience-dependent cortical plasticity that can lead to amblyopia is present earlier in life than previously recognized.
Keywords: critical period; infancy; monocular deprivation; optokinetic; optomotor; plasticity; visual cortex.