Neurotrophic factors, particularly the neurotrophin gene family of neurotrophic factors, are implicated in activity-dependent anatomical plasticity in the visual cortex and at the neuromuscular junction. Accumulating evidence implicates neurotrophic factors as possible mediators of activity-dependent competition between afferents, leading to the segregation of afferents' arbors on the target space. We present a biologically plausible mathematical model of competition for neurotrophic factors. We show that the model leads to anatomical segregation, provided that the levels of neurotrophic factors released in an activity-independent manner, or the levels available by exogenous infusion, are below a critical value, which we derive. Above this critical value, afferent segregation breaks down. We also show that the model segregates afferents even in the presence of very highly correlated patterns of afferent activity. The model is therefore ideally suited for application to the development of ocular dominance columns in the kitten visual cortex.

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