Neuronal Development

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1.Research overview

As the proverb says ‘as the boy, so the man’, influence of early childhood learning comes into the spotlight in brain development. It is generally thought that learning how to play instruments and sports or speaking languages is much easier during childhood than in adulthood. The young brain experiences a unique window 'critical period' when neuronal circuitry is intensively remodeled based on experience. Shaping of neuronal circuits causes functional changes that could influence an individual life. Understanding of mechanism of critical period will contribute to safety manipulation of this plasticity for recovery from brain disorders in adulthood.

2.Research theme

Childhood experience also impacts vision. Imbalanced visual experience, for instance by closing one eye for a brief period, leads to a rapid shift of neuronal spiking response in favor of the open eye (ocular dominance plasticity). From mouse to man, the seemingly innocuous imbalance of experience causes a reduction of visual acuity through the closed eye (amblyopia) that is difficult to improve in adulthood beyond the critical period. The mechanisms, how cellular/molecular maturation controls the timing of this plasticity, however, remain largely unknown yet. We have taken notice of the idea that a homeodomain transcription factor Otx2, well known for its role in embryonic head formation, is reused during the postnatal brain development. Experience-dependent transfer of this homeoprotein activated the onset of critical period. Then, our major questions are (1) how this plasticity waxes in early childhood and wanes in adulthood, (2) how experience promotes brain development, (3) how homeoproteins travel by experience to control the plasticity.