Early experience affects the development of the visual system. Ocular misalignment or unilateral blur often causes amblyopia, a disorder that has become a standard for understanding developmental plasticity. Neurophysiological studies of amblyopia have focused almost entirely on the first stage of cortical processing in striate cortex. Here we provide the first extensive study of how amblyopia affects extrastriate cortex in nonhuman primates. We studied macaque monkeys (Macaca nemestrina) for which we have detailed psychophysical data, directly comparing physiological findings to perceptual capabilities. Because these subjects showed deficits in motion discrimination, we focused on area MT/V5, which plays a central role in motion processing. Most neurons in normal MT respond equally to visual stimuli presented through either eye; most recorded in amblyopes strongly preferred stimulation of the nonamblyopic (fellow) eye. The pooled responses of neurons driven by the amblyopic eye showed reduced sensitivity to coherent motion and preferred higher speeds, in agreement with behavioral measurements. MT neurons were more limited in their capacity to integrate motion information over time than expected from behavioral performance; neurons driven by the amblyopic eye had even shorter integration times than those driven by the fellow eye. We conclude that some, but not all, of the motion sensitivity deficits associated with amblyopia can be explained by abnormal development of MT.
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