Sensitive and critical periods during neurotypical and aberrant neurodevelopment: a framework for neurodevelopmental disorders

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Mar;50:180-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.12.001. Epub 2014 Dec 10.


During sensitive and critical periods, the brain undergoes significant plasticity from the level of individual synapses and neuronal networks up to the level of behaviour. Both sensitive and critical periods during neurotypical development of the young animal provide a framework to the early temporally-regulated modifications that occur in the nervous system. In neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD), notably autistic syndromes and intellectual disability, children exhibit developmental delays in motor, social and sensory processes and often miss key developmental milestones. In corresponding genetic NDD mouse models, recent data reveal temporally-regulated and in some cases, transient impairments in many neuronal and behavioural phenotypes during development. However, the mechanisms underlying these impairments in NDDs and their potential links with neurobiological mechanisms governing neurotypical development are not fully investigated. This article highlights the potential for the use of known critical and sensitive periods during vertebrate development to investigate and advance our understanding of the neural bases underlying impairments in these developmental disorders of the nervous system.

Keywords: Autism; Critical period; Fragile X syndrome; Neurodevelopmental disorder (NDD); Neurotypical; Sensitive period; Synapse; Time-window.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / abnormalities*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Critical Period, Psychological*
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / etiology*
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Synapses / genetics
  • Synapses / physiology*