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Jaime Olavarria, M.D., Ph.D

Emeritus Professor

Degree From: University of Chile, University of California - Berkeley

Interests: Development of Organized Neural Connections, Plasticity and Critical Periods in the Mammalian Central Visual System. Structural Determinants of MRI Observations in Developing Cortex and White Matter.


Website(s) Website


Do I accept and train new psychology graduate students in general?


Perception, cognition and behavior depend on the development of specialized, orderly neural networks throughout the cerebral cortex. Visual cortex, the primary focus of our lab, is subdivided into the primary visual area (V1, area 17, striate cortex) and a number of extrastriate areas that contain more or less complete representations of the opposite visual hemifield. During development these areas become interconnected through reciprocal neural networks that maintain the visuotopic organization imposed by the retina. What is the anatomical and functional organization of visual cortex among different species? How do topographically precise networks develop among visual areas, and how susceptible are they to pathological insults at different developmental stages? We study these and related questions using anatomical and electrophysiological techniques, as well as time-lapse, MRI and longitudinal approaches in vivo. Another set of projects derives from our recent discovery that in rats, the inputs from both eyes are anatomically segregated in primary visual cortex, forming what in primates and carnivores are known as Ocular Dominance Columns (ODCs). This finding provides a new and promising model for studying experience induced changes in central nervous system circuitry, as well as the cellular mechanisms underlying ocular dominance plasticity in mammals. We have begun exploring the possibility of using in vivo manganese-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MEMRI) for longitudinal studies of plastic changes of ODCs in rats. Another MRI technique, Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), shows great potential as a non-invasive technique for studying the development of neuronal connectivity and architecture under normal as well as pathological conditions. We are currently developing an experimental model in ferrets for examining the ability of DTI for detecting and monitoring changes in gray and white matter induced by early visual deafferentation. Our goal is to understand the relationship between DTI anisotropy measurements and the underlying structural changes in neuronal connectivity in order to fully develop the potential of this technique for detecting abnormalities associated with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Selected Publications

  • Kroenke, C.D., Brian Mills, B., Olavarria, J.F., Neil, J.J. 2014. The neuroanatomy of the ferret brain with focus on the cerebral cortex. In Fox J.G., Marini R.P., Editors” Biology and Diseases of the Ferret, Oxford, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. P 69-80.
  • Laing, R.J., Turecek, J., Takahata, T., Olavarria, J.F. 2014. Identification of eye-specific domains and their relationship to callosal connections in primary visual cortex of Long Evans rats. Cerebral Cortex, doi:10.1093/cercor/bhu128.
  • Laing, R.J, Lasiene, J., Olavarria, J.F. 2013. Topography of striate-extrastriate connections develops abnormally in the absence of retinal input. Biomed Research International. Neuroscience, doi:10.1155/2013/592426.
  • Bock, A.S., Kroenke, C.D., Taber, E.N., Olavarria, J.F. 2012. Retinal input influences the size and corticocortical connectivity of visual cortex during postnatal development in the ferret. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 520:914–932. DOI: 10.1002/cne.22738.
  • Laing, R.J., Bock, A.S., Lasiene, J., Olavarria, J.F. 2012. Role of retinal input on the development of striate-extrastriate patterns of connections in the rat. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 520:3256-3276. DOI: 10.1002/cne.23096
  • Olavarria, J.F., Bock, A.S., Leigland L.A., Kroenke, C.D. 2012. Deafferentation-induced plasticity of visual callosal connections: predicting critical periods and analyzing cortical abnormalities using diffusion tensor imaging. Neural Plasticity, 2012, article ID 250196.
  • Olavarria, J.F., Bock, A.S., Leigland L.A., Kroenke, C.D. 2012. Deafferentation-induced plasticity of visual callosal connections: predicting critical periods and analyzing cortical abnormalities using diffusion tensor imaging. Neural Plasticity, in press.
  • Bock, A.S., Olavarria, J.F. 2011. Neonatal enucleation during a critical period reduces the precision of cortico-cortical projections in visual cortex. Neuroscience Letters, 501:152–156. DOI:10.1016/j.neulet.2011.07.005.
  • Bock, A.S., Olavarria, J.F., Leigland, L.A., Taber, E.N., Jespersen, S.N., Kroenke, C.D. 2010. Diffusion tensor imaging detects early cerebral cortex abnormalities in neuronal architecture induced by bilateral neonatal enucleation: An experimental model in the ferret. Front Syst Neurosci 4: Article 149.
  • Ruthazer E.S., Bachleda A.R., Olavarria J.F. 2010. Role of interstitial branches in the development of visual cortico-cortical connections: A time-lapse and fixed-tissue analysis. J. Comp. Neurol. 518: 4963-4979.
  • Olavarria J.F., Laing R., Hiroi S., Lasiene J. 2008. Topography and axon arbor architecture in the visual callosal pathway: effects of deafferentation and blockade of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors. Biological Research, 41:413-424.
  • Olavarria J.F., van Brederode J.F.M., and Spain W.J. 2007. Retinal influences induce bidirectional changes in the kinetics of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor-mediated responses in striate cortical cells during postnatal development. Neuroscience, 148: 683-699.
  • Olavarria J.F., and P. Safaeian. 2006. Development of callosal topography in visual cortex of normal and enucleated rats. Journal of Comparative Neurology, in press.
  • Hevner, R.F., Daza, R.A.M., Rubenstein, J.L.R., Stunnenberg, H., Olavarria, J.F., and C. Englund. 2003. Beyond laminar fate: toward a molecular classification of cortical projection/pyramidal neurons. Developmental Neuroscience, 25:139-151.
  • Olavarria, J.F. and R. Hiroi. 2003. Retinal influences specify cortico-cortical maps by postnatal day six in rats and mice. Journal of Comparative Neurology,459:156-172.
  • Sorensen, S.A., T.A. Jones, Olavarria J.F. 2003. Neonatal enucleation reduces the proportion of multiple synaptic boutons in the callosal projection to rat striate cortex. Neuroscience Letters, 351:17-20.
  • Olavarria, J.F. 2002. Callosal connections correlate preferentially with ipsilateral cortical domains in cat areas 17 and 18, and with contralateral domains in the 17/18 transition zone. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 433:441-457.
  • O’Brien, B.J., Abel, P.L., and J.F. Olavarria. 2002. Connections of calbindin-D28k-defined subdivisions in inferior pulvinar with visual areas V2, V4 and MT in macaque monkeys. Thalamus & Related Systems, 1: 317-330.
  • Olavarria, J.F. 2001. Influence of topography and ocular dominance on the functional organization of callosal connections in cat striate cortex. In Payne B., Peters A., Editors: The Cat Primary Visual Cortex, New York: Academic Press. P 259-294.

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