Effect of the richness of the environment on neurons in cat visual cortex. I. Receptive field properties

Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 1990 Apr 1;53(1):71-81. doi: 10.1016/0165-3806(90)90125-i.


In a recent study, it was demonstrated that the number of synaptic contacts associated with flat vesicles (FS synapses) is higher in the visual cortex of cats raised in an enriched environmental condition (EC) compared to those reared in an impoverished condition (IC). Moreover, the size of the FS synaptic contacts is also affected by the richness of the animal's environment during development. Based on evidence that the vast majority of FS synapses are GABAergic (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and that many of the properties of visual cortex neurons are influenced by GABA-dependent mechanisms, it has been suggested that these morphological synaptic changes induced by the richness of the environment correlate with differences in cortical receptive field properties. In the present study, this has been explored by recording visual responses of area 17 cells in cats raised either in isolation (IC) or in a colony with ample environmental stimulation (EC). Enriched visual cortex contains a higher proportion of orientation selective cells and a lower proportion of orientation biased and unoriented cells. In addition, orientation tuning is significantly sharper in EC animals (mean bandwidth of responsive units is equal to 32 degrees) than in IC cats (mean bandwidth is equal to 38 degrees; P less than 0.001). This is mostly due to the greater incidence of orientation biased units in impoverished cortex (23% in EC and 41% in IC animals; P less than 0.01). Unit responsivity is significantly affected by the richness of the environment. We found that all units of the EC cortex were responsive to light stimuli. In contrast, 14% of the impoverished cells studied fail to increase their response to at least twice the standard deviation of the spontaneous activity and were judged as unresponsive. We suggest that the lower responsivity in IC visual units is related to the higher number of GABAergic synapses per IC neuron, while the broader selectivity in IC cortex might be due to a more diffuse distribution of the GABAergic inhibitory connections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Male
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Social Environment*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*