Synaptic Basis for Cross-modal Plasticity: Enhanced Supragranular Dendritic Spine Density in Anterior Ectosylvian Auditory Cortex of the Early Deaf Cat

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In the cat, the auditory field of the anterior ectosylvian sulcus (FAES) is sensitive to auditory cues and its deactivation leads to orienting deficits toward acoustic, but not visual, stimuli. However, in early deaf cats, FAES activity shifts to the visual modality and its deactivation blocks orienting toward visual stimuli. Thus, as in other auditory cortices, hearing loss leads to cross-modal plasticity in the FAES. However, the synaptic basis for cross-modal plasticity is unknown. Therefore, the present study examined the effect of early deafness on the density, distribution, and size of dendritic spines in the FAES. Young cats were ototoxically deafened and raised until adulthood when they (and hearing controls) were euthanized, the cortex stained using Golgi-Cox, and FAES neurons examined using light microscopy. FAES dendritic spine density averaged 0.85 spines/μm in hearing animals, but was significantly higher (0.95 spines/μm) in the early deaf. Size distributions and increased spine density were evident specifically on apical dendrites of supragranular neurons. In separate tracer experiments, cross-modal cortical projections were shown to terminate predominantly within the supragranular layers of the FAES. This distributional correspondence between projection terminals and dendritic spine changes indicates that cross-modal plasticity is synaptically based within the supragranular layers of the early deaf FAES.

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