Environmental factors have long been known to regulate brain plasticity. We investigated the potential influence of social experience on ocular dominance plasticity. Fully adult female or male mice were monocularly deprived for four days and kept a) either alone or in pairs of the same sex and b) either in a small cage or a large, featureless arena. While mice kept alone did not show ocular dominance plasticity, no matter whether in a cage or in an arena, paired female mice in both environmental conditions displayed a shift of ocular dominance towards the open eye. Paired male mice, in contrast, showed no plasticity in the cage, but a very strong ocular dominance shift in the arena. This effect was not due to increased locomotion, since the covered distance was similar in single and paired male mice in the arena, and furnishing cages with a running wheel did not enable ocular dominance plasticity in cage-housed mice. Confirming recent results in rats, the plasticity-enhancing effect of the social environment was shown to be mediated by serotonin. Our results demonstrate that social experience has a strong effect on cortical plasticity that is sex-dependent. This has potential consequences both for animal research and for human education and rehabilitation.
Keywords: Ocular dominance plasticity; Optical imaging; Serotonin; Social experience; Visual cortex.
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