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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Identification of α-Chimaerin as a Candidate Gene for Critical Period Neuronal Plasticity in Cat and Mouse Visual Cortex

Cui Bo Yang1, Yu Ting Zheng2, Paul J Kiser3 and George D Mower1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology, University of Louisville School of Medicine, 500 S. Preston St., Louisville, KY 40202, USA

2 Department of Medicine, University of Louisville School of Medicine, 500 S. Preston St., Louisville, KY 40202, USA

3 Department of Biology, Bellarmine University, 2001 Newburg Rd., Louisville, KY 40205, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:70  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-70

Published: 18 July 2011



In cat visual cortex, critical period neuronal plasticity is minimal until approximately 3 postnatal weeks, peaks at 5 weeks, gradually declines to low levels at 20 weeks, and disappears by 1 year of age. Dark rearing slows the entire time course of this critical period, such that at 5 weeks of age, normal cats are more plastic than dark reared cats, whereas at 20 weeks, dark reared cats are more plastic. Thus, a stringent criterion for identifying genes that are important for plasticity in visual cortex is that they show differences in expression between normal and dark reared that are of opposite direction in young versus older animals.


The present study reports the identification by differential display PCR of a novel gene, α-chimaerin, as a candidate visual cortex critical period plasticity gene that showed bidirectional regulation of expression due to age and dark rearing. Northern blotting confirmed the bidirectional expression and 5'RACE sequencing identified the gene. There are two alternatively-spliced α-chimaerin isoforms: α1 and α2. Western blotting extended the evidence for bidirectional regulation of visual cortex α-chimaerin isoform expression to protein in cats and mice. α1- and α2-Chimaerin were elevated in dark reared compared to normal visual cortex at the peak of the normal critical period and in normal compared to dark reared visual cortex at the nadir of the normal critical period. Analysis of variance showed a significant interaction in both cats and mice for both α-chimaerin isoforms, indicating that the effect of dark rearing depended on age. This differential expression was not found in frontal cortex.


Chimaerins are RhoGTPase-activating proteins that are EphA4 effectors and have been implicated in a number of processes including growth cone collapse, axon guidance, dendritic spine development and the formation of corticospinal motor circuits. The present results identify α-chimaerin as a candidate molecule for a role in the postnatal critical period of visual cortical plasticity.

Chimerin; α1-Chimaerin; α2-Chimaerin; Dark Rearing; differential display PCR