Adult cortical plasticity following injury: Recapitulation of critical period mechanisms?

Neuroscience. 2014 Dec 26;283:4-16. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.04.029. Epub 2014 May 1.


A primary goal of research on developmental critical periods (CPs) is the recapitulation of a juvenile-like state of malleability in the adult brain that might enable recovery from injury. These ambitions are often framed in terms of the simple reinstatement of enhanced plasticity in the growth-restricted milieu of an injured adult brain. Here, we provide an analysis of the similarities and differences between deprivation-induced and injury-induced cortical plasticity, to provide for a nuanced comparison of these remarkably similar processes. As a first step, we review the factors that drive ocular dominance plasticity in the primary visual cortex of the uninjured brain during the CP and in adults, to highlight processes that might confer adaptive advantage. In addition, we directly compare deprivation-induced cortical plasticity during the CP and plasticity following acute injury or ischemia in mature brain. We find that these two processes display a biphasic response profile following deprivation or injury: an initial decrease in GABAergic inhibition and synapse loss transitions into a period of neurite expansion and synaptic gain. This biphasic response profile emphasizes the transition from a period of cortical healing to one of reconnection and recovery of function. Yet while injury-induced plasticity in adult shares several salient characteristics with deprivation-induced plasticity during the CP, the degree to which the adult injured brain is able to functionally rewire, and the time required to do so, present major limitations for recovery. Attempts to recapitulate a measure of CP plasticity in an adult injury context will need to carefully dissect the circuit alterations and plasticity mechanisms involved while measuring functional behavioral output to assess their ultimate success.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Brain Injuries / pathology*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Recovery of Function / physiology*
  • Sensory Deprivation