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Research developments may lead to new amblyopia treatments

A recent study has found out new information about the brain and the way that the organ communicates with the eyes. This research, published in the journal Nature, could lead to a better understanding of the plasticity of the brain and new treatments for the condition called amblyopia (commonly known as ‘lazy eye’).

While the brain develops, the visual system starts a process called ocular dominance. It is a normal process that aids the development of the eyes and the visual system. It allows the two eyes to compete for the middle ground, called binocular zone. However, if one of the eyes cannot effectively compete with the other, then this process causes an imbalance of vision. This process has been compared and fit into the plasticity model, which is the model that explains how the eyes can adapt differently to different external stimuli. According to plasticity in fact, the brain can develop new stronger connections if enough cells in the organ fire at the right times. However, this model also says that a specific amount of cells have to be firing in order for the brain to be able to change its behaviour and build stronger connections with the eyes.

Hence, this research was looking at how to explain ocular dominance plasticity. It has been found that when a mouse’s eye is patched, the firing of the cells gets reduced by about half just as expected. However the researchers discovered, by measuring the cells activity in the 24 hours afterwards, that the firing rate increased again.

They found that this increase that brought back the firing to the normal range was due to a brain circuit that usually has been found to inhibit the cell’s firing. Hence, this brain circuit could be the answer to finding new treatments to the ‘lazy eye’ condition. Medications could be developed to help ‘turn on’ this circuit. This might lead to visual improvements for older patients.

For more information and to purchase the access to the complete study, please visit the article page in the website of the journal Nature.