Induction of a central retinal lesion in both eyes of adult mammals is a model for macular degeneration and leads to retinotopic map reorganization in the primary visual cortex (V1). Here we characterized the spatiotemporal dynamics of molecular activity levels in the central and peripheral representation of five higher-order visual areas, V2/18, V3/19, V4/21a,V5/PMLS, area 7, and V1/17, in adult cats with central 10° retinal lesions (both sexes), by means of real-time PCR for the neuronal activity reporter gene zif268. The lesions elicited a similar, permanent reduction in activity in the center of the lesion projection zone of area V1/17, V2/18, V3/19, and V4/21a, but not in the motion-driven V5/PMLS, which instead displayed an increase in molecular activity at 3 months postlesion, independent of visual field coordinates. Also area 7 only displayed decreased activity in its LPZ in the first weeks postlesion and increased activities in its periphery from 1 month onward. Therefore we examined the impact of central vision loss on motion perception using random dot kinematograms to test the capacity for form from motion detection based on direction and velocity cues. We revealed that the central retinal lesions either do not impair motion detection or even result in better performance, specifically when motion discrimination was based on velocity discrimination. In conclusion, we propose that central retinal damage leads to enhanced peripheral vision by sensitizing the visual system for motion processing relying on feedback from V5/PMLS and area 7.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Central retinal lesions, a model for macular degeneration, result in functional reorganization of the primary visual cortex. Examining the level of cortical reactivation with the molecular activity marker zif268 revealed reorganization in visual areas outside V1. Retinotopic lesion projection zones typically display an initial depression in zif268 expression, followed by partial recovery with postlesion time. Only the motion-sensitive area V5/PMLS shows no decrease, and even a significant activity increase at 3 months post-retinal lesion. Behavioral tests of motion perception found no impairment and even better sensitivity to higher random dot stimulus velocities. We demonstrate that the loss of central vision induces functional mobilization of motion-sensitive visual cortex, resulting in enhanced perception of moving stimuli.

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