Brain aging is characterized by functional deterioration across multiple systems, associated to a progressive decay of neural plasticity. Here, we explored environmental enrichment (EE), a condition of enhanced sensory-motor and cognitive stimulation, as a strategy to restore plasticity processes in the old brain. Visual system is one of the paradigmatic models for studying experience-dependent plasticity. While reducing input from one eye through monocular deprivation induces a marked ocular dominance (OD) shift of neurons in the primary visual cortex during development, the same manipulation is totally ineffective after the closure of the critical period. We show that EE is able to reactivate OD plasticity in the visual cortex of aging rats, as assessed with both visual-evoked potentials and single-unit recordings. A marked reduction in intracortical GABAergic inhibition and a remodeling of extracellular matrix accompany this effect. The non-invasive nature of EE makes this paradigm eligible for human application.
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