Regulating Critical Period Plasticity: Insight From the Visual System to Fear Circuitry for Therapeutic Interventions

Front Psychiatry. 2013 Nov 11;4:146. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00146. eCollection 2013.


Early temporary windows of heightened brain plasticity called critical periods developmentally sculpt neural circuits and contribute to adult behavior. Regulatory mechanisms of visual cortex development - the preeminent model of experience-dependent critical period plasticity-actively limit adult plasticity and have proved fruitful therapeutic targets to reopen plasticity and rewire faulty visual system connections later in life. Interestingly, these molecular mechanisms have been implicated in the regulation of plasticity in other functions beyond vision. Applying mechanistic understandings of critical period plasticity in the visual cortex to fear circuitry may provide a conceptual framework for developing novel therapeutic tools to mitigate aberrant fear responses in post traumatic stress disorder. In this review, we turn to the model of experience-dependent visual plasticity to provide novel insights for the mechanisms regulating plasticity in the fear system. Fear circuitry, particularly fear memory erasure, also undergoes age-related changes in experience-dependent plasticity. We consider the contributions of molecular brakes that halt visual critical period plasticity to circuitry underlying fear memory erasure. A major molecular brake in the visual cortex, perineuronal net formation, recently has been identified in the development of fear systems that are resilient to fear memory erasure. The roles of other molecular brakes, myelin-related Nogo receptor signaling and Lynx family proteins - endogenous inhibitors for nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, are explored in the context of fear memory plasticity. Such fear plasticity regulators, including epigenetic effects, provide promising targets for therapeutic interventions.

Keywords: HDAC inhibitors; critical period; fear erasure; lynx1; perineuronal nets; reconsolidation update; visual cortex plasticity.

Publication types

  • Review