The major neuronal populations of the primate cerebral cortex can be classified immunocytochemically according to their transmitters and in terms of the differential expression of certain other molecules such as neuropeptides, calcium-binding proteins and protein kinases. We have been able to chart the time course of developmental expression of these molecules and to show that gene expression for many of them is regulated in adult and infant animals by afferent activity entering the cortex. In the visual cortex of adult monkeys, levels of immunocytochemically detectable gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), of its synthesizing enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) and of the tachykinins are greatly reduced in deprived ocular dominance columns within 24 h of blocking impulse activity in the optic nerve by intraocular injection of tetrodotoxin (TTX). Conversely, levels of immunocytochemically detectable calcium-calmodulin-dependent protein kinase (CAMII kinase) are increased in deprived eye dominance columns. These effects are quickly reversible on restoration of binocular vision, and experiments involving in situ hybridization and S1 nuclease protection assays show that the changes are associated with parallel changes in mRNA levels for preprotachykinin and CAM II kinase, but not for GAD, which appears to be regulated by post-transcriptional mechanisms. Experiments in the primate somatic sensory cortex suggest comparable activity-dependent effects on gene expression there also. It is proposed that effects of this type underlie the establishment of cortical maps during development and their activity-dependent mutability in adulthood.

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