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Critical periods in Drosophila neural network development: Importance to network tuning and therapeutic potential.

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Coulson, Bramwell 
Hunter, Iain 
Doran, Sarah 
Parkin, Jill 
Landgraf, Matthias 


Critical periods are phases of heightened plasticity that occur during the development of neural networks. Beginning with pioneering work of Hubel and Wiesel, which identified a critical period for the formation of ocular dominance in mammalian visual network connectivity, critical periods have been identified for many circuits, both sensory and motor, and across phyla, suggesting a universal phenomenon. However, a key unanswered question remains why these forms of plasticity are restricted to specific developmental periods rather than being continuously present. The consequence of this temporal restriction is that activity perturbations during critical periods can have lasting and significant functional consequences for mature neural networks. From a developmental perspective, critical period plasticity might enable reproducibly robust network function to emerge from ensembles of cells, whose properties are necessarily variable and fluctuating. Critical periods also offer significant clinical opportunity. Imposed activity perturbation during these periods has shown remarkable beneficial outcomes in a range of animal models of neurological disease including epilepsy. In this review, we spotlight the recent identification of a locomotor critical period in Drosophila larva and describe how studying this model organism, because of its simplified nervous system and an almost complete wired connectome, offers an attractive prospect of understanding how activity during a critical period impacts a neuronal network.


Peer reviewed: True

Acknowledgements: We thank Anna Munro for help with drawing of figures.


Drosophila, critical period, development, homeostasis, network, neuron

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Front Physiol

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Frontiers Media SA
Wellcome Trust (N/A)