Neuronal plasticity peaks early in life during critical periods and normally declines with age, but the molecular changes that underlie this decline are not fully understood. Using the mouse visual cortex as a model, we found that activity-dependent expression of the neuronal protein Arc peaks early in life, and that loss of activity-dependent Arc expression parallels loss of synaptic plasticity in the visual cortex. Genetic overexpression of Arc prolongs the critical period of visual cortex plasticity, and acute viral expression of Arc in adult mice can restore juvenile-like plasticity. These findings provide a mechanism for the loss of excitatory plasticity with age, and suggest that Arc may be an exciting therapeutic target for modulation of the malleability of neuronal circuits.Abstract
The molecular basis for the decline in experience-dependent neural plasticity over age remains poorly understood. In visual cortex, the robust plasticity induced in juvenile mice by brief monocular deprivation during the critical period is abrogated by genetic deletion of Arc, an activity-dependent regulator of excitatory synaptic modification. Here, we report that augmenting Arc expression in adult mice prolongs juvenile-like plasticity in visual cortex, as assessed by recordings of ocular dominance (OD) plasticity in vivo. A distinguishing characteristic of juvenile OD plasticity is the weakening of deprived-eye responses, believed to be accounted for by the mechanisms of homosynaptic long-term depression (LTD). Accordingly, we also found increased LTD in visual cortex of adult mice with augmented Arc expression and impaired LTD in visual cortex of juvenile mice that lack Arc or have been treated in vivo with a protein synthesis inhibitor. Further, we found that although activity-dependent expression of Arc mRNA does not change with age, expression of Arc protein is maximal during the critical period and declines in adulthood. Finally, we show that acute augmentation of Arc expression in wild-type adult mouse visual cortex is sufficient to restore juvenile-like plasticity. Together, our findings suggest a unifying molecular explanation for the age- and activity-dependent modulation of synaptic sensitivity to deprivation.