Environmental enrichment accelerates ocular dominance plasticity in mouse visual cortex whereas transfer to standard cages resulted in a rapid loss of increased plasticity


In standard cage (SC) raised mice, experience-dependent ocular dominance (OD) plasticity in the primary visual cortex (V1) rapidly declines with age: in postnatal day 25–35 (critical period) mice, 4 days of monocular deprivation (MD) are sufficient to induce OD-shifts towards the open eye; thereafter, 7 days of MD are needed. Beyond postnatal day 110, even 14 days of MD failed to induce OD-plasticity in mouse V1. In contrast, mice raised in a so-called “enriched environment” (EE), exhibit lifelong OD-plasticity. EE-mice have more voluntary physical exercise (running wheels), and experience more social interactions (bigger housing groups) and more cognitive stimulation (regularly changed labyrinths or toys). Whether experience-dependent shifts of V1-activation happen faster in EE-mice and how long the plasticity promoting effect would persist after transferring EE-mice back to SCs has not yet been investigated. To this end, we used intrinsic signal optical imaging to visualize V1-activation i) before and after MD in EE-mice of different age groups (from 1–9 months), and ii) after transferring mice back to SCs after postnatal day 130. Already after 2 days of MD, and thus much faster than in SC-mice, EE-mice of all tested age groups displayed a significant OD-shift towards the open eye. Transfer of EE-mice to SCs immediately abolished OD-plasticity: already after 1 week of SC-housing and MD, OD-shifts could no longer be visualized. In an attempt to rescue abolished OD-plasticity of these mice, we either administered the anti-depressant fluoxetine (in drinking water) or supplied a running wheel in the SCs. OD-plasticity was only rescued for the running wheel- mice. Altogether our results show that raising mice in less deprived environments like large EE-cages strongly accelerates experience-dependent changes in V1-activation compared to the impoverished SC-raising. Furthermore, preventing voluntary physical exercise of EE-mice in adulthood immediately precludes OD-shifts in V1.