Neural activity is often required for the later stages of synaptic refinement during brain development. It is thought that learning rules acting at the individual synapse level, which specify how pre- and postsynaptic activity lead to changes in synaptic efficacy, underlie such activity-dependent development. Such learning rules also likely function in the adult brain to govern learning and memory.
Unfortunately, in most cases, it is not clear what the desired synaptic connectivity is, nor how the system-level in vivo activity patterns manifest at individual synapses. As a result it is difficult to determine how synaptic plasticity functions in vivo. The activity-dependent refinement of connections between retina and downstream targets (LGN and superior colliculus) is one of the few systems where both the patterning of connectivity, and the population-level activity is relatively well understood. Refinement of retinotopy and segregation of eye-specific layering is largely driven by spontaneous activity in the retina before the onset of vision. As a result, we use this system to understand the activity-dependent processes acting at the synaptic and cellular level to guide development.
Synaptic plasticity in development
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