For routine behavioral tasks, mice predominantly rely on olfactory cues and tactile information. In contrast, their visual capabilities appear rather restricted, raising the question whether they can improve if vision gets more behaviorally relevant. We therefore performed long-term training using the visual water task (VWT): adult standard cage (SC)-raised mice were trained to swim toward a rewarded grating stimulus so that using visual information avoided excessive swimming toward nonrewarded stimuli. Indeed, and in contrast to old mice raised in a generally enriched environment (Greifzu et al., 2016), long-term VWT training increased visual acuity (VA) on average by more than 30% to 0.82 cycles per degree (cyc/deg). In an individual animal, VA even increased to 1.49 cyc/deg, i.e., beyond the rat range of VAs. Since visual experience enhances the spatial frequency threshold of the optomotor (OPT) reflex of the open eye after monocular deprivation (MD), we also quantified monocular vision after VWT training. Monocular VA did not increase reliably, and eye reopening did not initiate a decline to pre-MD values as observed by optomotry; VA values rather increased by continued VWT training. Thus, optomotry and VWT measure different parameters of mouse spatial vision. Finally, we tested whether long-term MD induced ocular dominance (OD) plasticity in the visual cortex of adult [postnatal day (P)162-P182] SC-raised mice. This was indeed the case: 40-50 days of MD induced OD shifts toward the open eye in both VWT-trained and, surprisingly, also in age-matched mice without VWT training. These data indicate that (1) long-term VWT training increases adult mouse VA, and (2) long-term MD induces OD shifts also in adult SC-raised mice.
Keywords: cortical plasticity; intrinsic signal optical imaging; mouse vision; optomotry; visual water task.