Neurodegeneration is a hallmark of many dementias and is thought to underlie a progressive impairment of neural plasticity. How neurodegeneration affects plasticity in neural circuits is not known. We therefore characterised the impact of tau-driven neurodegeneration on plasticity in the visual system, where normal function is well understood. We studied a very simple form of visual plasticity that allowed us to track both long timescales (across days) and shorter timescales (over minutes). We recorded the local field potential in the primary visual cortex of rTg4510 transgenic mice, a mouse model of tauopathy, while animals were repeatedly exposed to the same stimulus over the course of 9 days. We studied animals at early stages of neurodegeneration (5 months old) and at a more advanced stage where pathology is evident (8 months). We found that both short- and long-term visual plasticity were already disrupted at early stages of neurodegeneration, and were further reduced in older animals, such that it was abolished in mice expressing the mutant tau. Additionally, we found that visually evoked behaviours were disrupted in both younger and older mice expressing the mutant tau. Our results show that visual cortical plasticity and visually evoked behaviours are disrupted in the rTg4510 model of tauopathy, even at early stages of neurodegeneration. This simple measure of neural plasticity may help understand how neurodegeneration disrupts neural circuits, and offers a translatable platform for detection and tracking of the disease.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience