Potential auditory compensation in neonatally bilaterally enucleated Syrian hamsters was explored anatomically, electrophysiologically and behaviourally. Gross morphology of the visual cortex appeared normal and no obvious cytoarchitectural malformation was discerned. However, enucleation induced a significant increase in the spontaneous firing rate of visual cortex cells. Further, auditory stimuli elicited field potentials and single unit responses in the visual cortex of enucleated, but not normal, animals. About 63% of the cells isolated in the visual cortex of 16 enucleated hamsters responded to at least one type of auditory stimulus. Most of the responses were less vigorous and less time-locked than those of auditory cortex cells, and thresholds were typically higher. Projection tracing with WGA-HRP disclosed reciprocal connections between the visual cortex and the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus in both intact and enucleated animals. However, in the enucleated animals retrogradely labelled cells were also found in the inferior colliculus, the major midbrain auditory nucleus. Behaviourally determined auditory sensitivity across the hearing range did not differ between enucleated and intact hamsters. Minimum audible angle, as determined by a conditioned suppression task, ranged from around 17 to 22°, with no significant difference between normal and enucleated animals. The two groups also did not differ with regard to the direction of their unconditioned head orientating response to intermittent noise. However, the enucleated animals showed a more vigorous response and were slower to habituate to the noise. These results show that bilateral enucleation of newborn hamsters results in auditory activation of visual targets, in addition to the typical activation of the intact auditory pathway. Behaviourally it appears that enucleated hamsters, compared with their normal littermates, are slower to habituate in their response to an unexpected source of sound.
- Auditory take-over
- Visual cortex