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In studies of the developing mammalian visual system, it has been axiomatic that visual experience begins with eye-opening. Any role for neuronal activity earlier in development has been attributed to the patterned spontaneous activity found in retina and lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). Here we show that, as early as 2 wk before eye-opening, visual stimuli presented through the closed eyelids can drive neuronal activity in LGN and striate cortex of the ferret. At this age, spontaneous activity in cortex is much lower than in LGN, and the visual responses of many cortical, but not geniculate, neurons depend on the orientation of a moving grating. Furthermore the selectivity of cortical neurons to the orientation of gratings presented through the closed eyelids improves with age. Thus neuronal activity patterned by visual experience, rather than by spontaneous retinal activity, is present in visual cortex much earlier than previously thought. This could have important implications for the self-organization of visual cortex.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurophysiol

Publication Date





1436 - 1443


Action Potentials, Aging, Animals, Animals, Newborn, Cerebral Cortex, Electrophysiology, Eyelids, Ferrets, Geniculate Bodies, Neurons, Photic Stimulation, Thalamus