Without binocular vision, it’s harder to judge distances or depth, or see an image in 3D. As a result, everyday activities such as catching a ball, driving a car, reading or even walking or running are challenging.
Now scientists at University of Utah Health have found that a gene, called Arc, is critical for cells in the brain that are responsible for binocular vision. They say this finding, based on animal studies, offers key insights into how these cells form and function.
The researchers used a powerful microscope to observe the real-time development of binocular cells in young mice exposed to vertical and horizontal bars. Then, they disabled the Arc gene in these animals and found that they developed more of these cells. More surprisingly, the same experiment in adult mice produced similar results, suggesting that the brain can make new brain cells later in life than had previously been thought.
However, the binocular cells that formed the adult mice weren’t fully functional. Based on these findings, the researchers suspect that the Arc gene acts as brake, preventing binocular cells from developing at the wrong time. At the right time, the brake is lifted and Arc is turned off, allowing binocular cells to form appropriately.
Understanding how Arc promotes turns the brakes on and off could also provide insights into brain plasticity, the ability to rewire connections between brain cells in response to new experiences. This understanding could eventually help those who have suffered strokes or traumatic head injuries to re-learn abilities that were lost due to brain damage.