Front Aging Neurosci. 2016;8:212
The primary visual cortex (V1) is widely used to study brain plasticity, which is not only crucial for normal brain function, such as learning and memory, but also for recovery after brain injuries such as stroke. In standard cage (SC) raised mice, experience-dependent ocular dominance (OD) plasticity in V1 declines with age and is compromised by a lesion in adjacent and distant cortical regions. In contrast, mice raised in an enriched environment (EE), exhibit lifelong OD plasticity and are protected from losing OD plasticity after a stroke-lesion in the somatosensory cortex. Since SC mice with an access to a running wheel (RW) displayed preserved OD plasticity during aging, we investigated whether physical exercise might also provide a plasticity promoting effect after a cortical stroke. To this end, we tested if adult RW-raised mice preserved OD plasticity after stroke and also if short-term running after stroke restored OD plasticity to SC mice. Indeed, unlike mice without a RW, adult RW mice continued to show OD plasticity even after stroke, and a 2 weeks RW experience after stroke already restored lost OD plasticity. Additionally, the experience-enabled increase of the spatial frequency and contrast threshold of the optomotor reflex of the open eye, normally lost after a stroke, was restored in both groups of RW mice. Our data suggest that physical exercise alone can not only preserve visual plasticity into old age, but also restore it after a cortical stroke.