Retinal cells have been induced to project into the medial geniculate nucleus, the principal auditory thalamic nucleus, in newborn ferrets by reduction of targets of retinal axons in one hemisphere and creation of alternative terminal space for these fibers in the auditory thalamus. Many cells in the medial geniculate nucleus are then visually driven, have large receptive fields, and receive input from retinal ganglion cells with small somata and slow conduction velocities. Visual cells with long conduction latencies and large contralateral receptive fields can also be recorded in primary auditory cortex. Some visual cells in auditory cortex are direction selective or have oriented receptive fields that resemble those of complex cells in primary visual cortex. Thus, functional visual projections can be routed into nonvisual structures in higher mammals, suggesting that the modality of a sensory thalamic nucleus or cortical area may be specified by its inputs during development.
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