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Brian Barton, Andrew Treister, Melanie Humphrey, Garen Abedi, Steven C. Cramer, Alyssa A. Brewer; Paradoxical visuomotor adaptation to reversed visual input is predicted by BDNF Val66Met polymorphism. Journal of Vision 2014;14(9):4. doi: 10.1167/14.9.4.
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Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is the most abundant neurotrophin in the brain, influencing neural development, plasticity, and repair (Chen et al., 2004; Thoenen, 1995). The BDNF gene contains a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) called Val66Met. The Met allele interferes with intracellular BDNF-trafficking, decreases activity-dependent BDNF secretion, and consequently is often associated with a shift from plasticity to stability in neural circuits (Egan et al., 2003). We investigated the behavioral consequences of the presence of the Met allele by comparing how 40 heterozygous subjects with the Val/Met genotype and 35 homozygous subjects with the Val/Val genotype performed on visuomotor tasks (reaching and navigation) under two conditions: normal vision and completely left-right reversed vision. As expected, subjects did not differ in their short-term ability to learn the tasks with normal vision (p = 0.58). Intuitively, it would be expected that homozygous Val/Val subjects with a propensity for greater BDNF-induced activity-dependent plasticity would learn new tasks more quickly than heterozygous Val/Met subjects with decreased BDNF secretion (Gilbert, Li, & Piech, 2009). However, we found the opposite here. When short-term mechanisms of visuomotor adaptation were engaged to compensate for the misalignment of visual and somatomotor information created by the left-right reversal of vision, heterozygous Val/Met subjects learned significantly more quickly than their homozygous Val/Val counterparts (p = 0.027). Our results demonstrate the paradoxical finding that the presence of the Met allele, which is thought to promote cortical stability, here improves immediate visuomotor adaptation to left–right-reversed visual input.
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