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Development of optokinetic neuronal responses in the pretectum and horizontal optokinetic nystagmus in unilaterally enucleated rats.

A. Reber, J. Lannou, B. J.M. Hess


Responses of single units to constant-velocity rotations of the visual surround (0.25-10 degrees/s) were studied in the pretectum of unilateral enucleated rats at different ages. Enucleation was performed either in the first postnatal week (early enucleated rats) or in the adult stage (late enucleated rats). Pretectal unitary responses were recorded in early enucleated animals at postnatal day 20-21, 36-49 and, in both experimental groups, in the adult stage. Optokinetic ocular nystagmus was studied in early and late enucleated rats in the adult stage. Gain of optokinetic nystagmus in temporo-nasal stimulus direction was not changed for visual surround rotations of up to 20 degrees/s compared to controls in monocular viewing conditions. At higher stimulus velocities, however, the gain dropped. In naso-temporal stimulus direction, optokinetic nystagmus was improved in gain for optokinetic pattern motions of up to 5-10 degrees/s. There were only minor differences in the gain behaviour of optokinetic nystagmus obtained from early or late enucleated rats. The optokinetic responses of pretectal neurons obtained from early and late enucleated rats were reduced in sensitivity by more than 50%. The response patterns of neurons recorded in the contralateral pretectum relative to the intact eye were shifted by a large amount from directional selective to directional nonselective response types. No such changes were obtained in the ipsilateral pretectum. In contrast to normal rats, there were very few directional selective units responding to temporo-nasal pattern motion. On the other hand, a large proportion of directional selective units responded to naso-temporal pattern motion. These latter units were found in both early and late enucleated rats. A similar response type has previously been described for intact young rats but not for adult rats. The velocity tuning curve of pretectal units studied in the adult stage was similar in shape in early and late enucleated rats and resembled that obtained from enucleated or intact young animals. Our results show that response sensitivity, direction and velocity tuning of pretectal units depend crucially on retinal afferent input originating from both eyes. The data suggest that the response characteristics of many of the pretectal units that are considered to be important for mediating optokinetic reflexes depend on interpretectal signal processing using commissural connections. There is very little evidence for an adaptative structural plasticity of the optokinetic system following loss of one eye. The reduced asymmetry observed in gain of optokinetic responses correlated in both early and late enucleated rats with the shifts observed in the distribution of pretectal unitary response patterns.

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