Cortical function can be shaped by sensory experience during a critical period. The onset of the critical period is thought to coincide with the onset of thalamocortical transmission to the thalamo-recipient layer 4 (L4). In early development, subplate neurons (SPNs), and not L4 neurons, are the first targets of thalamic afferents. SPNs are transiently involved in early development and are largely eliminated during development.
Activation of L4 by thalamic afferents coincides with the opening of ear canal (~P11 in mice) and precedes the later critical period. Here, we show in mice that abolishing peripheral function or presenting sound stimuli even before P11 leads to bidirectionally altered functional connectivity of SPNs in auditory cortex. Thus, early sensory experience can sculpt subplate circuits before thalamocortical circuits to L4 are mature.
Our results show that peripheral activity shapes cortical circuits in a sequential manner and from earlier ages than has been appreciated.