Re-opening WindowsManipulating Critical Periods for Brain Development
The brain acquires certain skills—from visual perception to language—during critical windows, specific times in early life when the brain is actively shaped by environmental input. Scientists are now discovering pathways in animal models through which these windows might be re-opened in adults, thus re-awakening a brain’s youth-like plasticity. Such research has implications for brain injury repair, sensory recovery, and neurodevelopmental disorder treatment.
The Idea That Scandalized Brain Science
Many neuroscientists say that the most startling about-face in their field has been the abandonment of the idea, once gospel, that the adult central nervous system has a fixed endpoint of development. Since no new nerve cells ever grew, repair—for example of a severed spinal cord—was out of the question. The revolution that shattered this orthodoxy is called “plasticity.” The scientist who coined that term reflects on how the implications of plasticity keep nudging us to reformulate basic questions about the brain.