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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2012, Article ID 631965, 14 pages
Review Article

Visual Cortex Plasticity: A Complex Interplay of Genetic and Environmental Influences

1Laboratorio di Neurobiologia, Scuola Normale Superiore, Piazza dei Cavalieri 7, 56126 Pisa, Italy
2Institute of Neuroscience, CNR, Via Moruzzi 1, 56124 Pisa, Italy

Received 16 December 2011; Revised 11 May 2012; Accepted 31 May 2012

Academic Editor: Ron Kupers

Copyright © 2012 José Fernando Maya-Vetencourt and Nicola Origlia. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The central nervous system architecture is highly dynamic and continuously modified by sensory experience through processes of neuronal plasticity. Plasticity is achieved by a complex interplay of environmental influences and physiological mechanisms that ultimately activate intracellular signal transduction pathways regulating gene expression. In addition to the remarkable variety of transcription factors and their combinatorial interaction at specific gene promoters, epigenetic mechanisms that regulate transcription have emerged as conserved processes by which the nervous system accomplishes the induction of plasticity. Experience-dependent changes of DNA methylation patterns and histone posttranslational modifications are, in fact, recruited as targets of plasticity-associated signal transduction mechanisms. Here, we shall concentrate on structural and functional consequences of early sensory deprivation in the visual system and discuss how intracellular signal transduction pathways associated with experience regulate changes of chromatin structure and gene expression patterns that underlie these plastic phenomena. Recent experimental evidence for mechanisms of cross-modal plasticity following congenital or acquired sensory deprivation both in human and animal models will be considered as well. We shall also review different experimental strategies that can be used to achieve the recovery of sensory functions after long-term deprivation in humans.