Traditional assessments of the development of the visual system typically use change in selectivity to particular features such as orientation or direction to determine the maturity of visual cortical circuits. Directional selectivity tuning (DS) was shown not only to increase rapidly and significantly in the two weeks after eye opening but also to exhibit clear experience-dependent maturation (Li et al. 2008, Nature). However, the usefulness of this measurement depends on the assumption that selectivity to a feature such as direction is a direct and precise indicator of how well suited the visual system is for normal functioning. We have developed an alternative measurement based on the statistical similarity of spontaneous and visually evoked activity patterns in the visual cortex as measured by Kullback-Leibler divergence (KL). This measure assesses the optimality of information encoding given the statistics of the visual input, and under the assumption that the visual system encodes information probabilistically (Berkes et al. Science 2011). We showed previously that information encoding becomes more optimal with age; however, it remains unclear whether this change is driven by visual experience or purely developmental factors. In the present work, we explore the relationship between traditional selectivity measurements and our measurement of development in animals at the same stage of development, but with varying exposure to visual experience. We recorded extracellularly in V1 of ferrets at P30 using implanted line arrays of microwire electrodes. At this age, ferrets’ eyes are closed limiting their visual experience prior to the experiment. First we conducted a pretest to obtain measurements of neural activity in the awake animal in response to drifting gratings, natural movies, as well as spontaneous activity. This enabled us to obtain measurements of both DS and the KL between the activity patterns during presentation of different types of stimuli in the same animal and at the same stage of visual development. Next, animals underwent 10-15 hours of training consisting of passively viewing full-field gratings drifting in different directions under isoflurane anesthesia. After training, we conducted a posttest containing the same stimulus conditions as pretest thus allowing us to directly assess the role of visual experience in development as measured by both DS and KL divergence between distributions of neural activity patterns under different stimulus conditions. Furthermore, this allowed us to elucidate the relationship between the two measures and the differences in their trends across different exposures to visual experience.

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