Unilateral lesions of the occipital visual areas performed on postnatal day 5 (P5) in the ferret are not compensated by the appearance, in the lesioned hemisphere, of visual responses at ectopic locations. Instead, when parts of the visual areas are spared, they show abnormal retinotopic organizations; furthermore, callosal connections are abnormally distributed in relation to the retinotopic maps. Lesions that completely eliminate the visual areas including the posterior parietal cortex cause the appearance of abnormal callosal connections from the primary somatosensory cortex on the lesion side to the contralateral, intact, posterior parietal cortex. The occipital visual areas (17, 18, 19, and 21) of the intact hemisphere show a normal retinotopy but lose callosal connections in territories homotopic to the lesions. These findings clarify the nature and limits of structural developmental plasticity in the visual cortex. Early in life, certain regions of cortex have been irreversibly allocated to the visual areas, but two properties defining the areas, that is, retinotopy and connections, remain modifiable. The findings might be relevant for understanding the consequences of early-onset visual cortical lesions in humans.
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