The development of the visual system is known to be shaped by early-life experience. To identify response properties that contribute to enhanced natural scene representation, we performed calcium imaging of excitatory neurons in the primary visual cortex (V1) of awake mice raised in three different conditions (standard-reared, dark-reared, and delayed-visual experience) and compared neuronal responses to natural scene features relative to simpler grating stimuli that varied in orientation and spatial frequency. We assessed population selectivity in V1 using decoding methods and found that natural scene discriminability increased by 75% between the ages of 4 to 6 weeks. Both natural scene and grating discriminability were higher in standard-reared animals compared to those raised in the dark. This increase in discriminability was accompanied by a reduction in the number of neurons that responded to low-spatial frequency gratings. At the same time there was an increase in neuronal preference for natural scenes. Light exposure restricted to a 2-4 week window during adulthood did not induce improvements in natural scene nor in grating stimulus discriminability. Our results demonstrate that experience reduces the number of neurons required to effectively encode grating stimuli and that early visual experience enhances natural scene discriminability by directly increasing responsiveness to natural scene features.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience