Modulation of visual cortical plasticity by acetylcholine and noradrenaline

Nature. 1986 Mar 13-19;320(6058):172-6. doi: 10.1038/320172a0.


During a critical period of postnatal development, the temporary closure of one eye in kittens will permanently shift the ocular dominance (OD) of neurones in the striate cortex to the eye that remains open. The OD plasticity can be substantially reduced if the cortex is infused continuously with the catecholamine neurotoxin 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) during the period of monocular deprivation, an effect that has been attributed to selective depletion of cortical noradrenaline. However, several other methods causing noradrenaline (NA) depletion leave the plasticity intact. Here we present a possible explanation for the conflicting results. Combined destruction of the cortical noradrenergic and cholinergic innervations reduces the physiological response to monocular deprivation although lesions of either system alone are ineffective. We also find that 6-OHDA can interfere directly with the action of acetylcholine (ACh) on cortical neurones. Taken together, our results suggest that intracortical 6-OHDA disrupts plasticity by interfering with both cholinergic and noradrenergic transmission and raise the possibility that ACh and NA facilitate synaptic modifications in the striate cortex by a common molecular mechanism.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / physiology*
  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Hydroxydopamines / pharmacology
  • Neuronal Plasticity* / drug effects
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*


  • Hydroxydopamines
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Acetylcholine
  • Norepinephrine