Two theories have influenced our understanding of cortical development: the integrated network theory, where synaptic development is coordinated across areas; and the cascade theory, where the cortex develops in a wave-like manner from sensory to non-sensory areas. These different views on cortical development raise challenges for current studies aimed at comparing detailed maturation of the connectome among cortical areas. We have taken a different approach to compare synaptic development in rat visual, somatosensory, and frontal cortex by measuring expression of pre-synaptic (synapsin and synaptophysin) proteins that regulate vesicle cycling, and post-synaptic density (PSD-95 and Gephyrin) proteins that anchor excitatory or inhibitory (E-I) receptors. We also compared development of the balances between the pairs of pre- or post-synaptic proteins, and the overall pre- to post-synaptic balance, to address functional maturation and emergence of the E-I balance. We found that development of the individual proteins and the post-synaptic index overlapped among the three cortical areas, but the pre-synaptic index matured later in frontal cortex. Finally, we applied a neuroinformatics approach using principal component analysis and found that three components captured development of the synaptic proteins. The first component accounted for 64% of the variance in protein expression and reflected total protein expression, which overlapped among the three cortical areas. The second component was gephyrin and the E-I balance, it emerged as sequential waves starting in somatosensory, then frontal, and finally visual cortex. The third component was the balance between pre- and post-synaptic proteins, and this followed a different developmental trajectory in somatosensory cortex. Together, these results give the most support to an integrated network of synaptic development, but also highlight more complex patterns of development that vary in timing and end point among the cortical areas.
Keywords: E-I balance; PSD-95; cortical development; critical period; gephyrin; integrated network; synapsin; synaptophysin.