Purpose of review: New insights into triggers and brakes of plasticity in the visual system are being translated into new treatment approaches which may improve outcomes not only in children, but also in adults.
Recent findings: Visual experience-driven plasticity is greatest in early childhood, triggered by maturation of inhibitory interneurons which facilitate strengthening of synchronous synaptic connections, and inactivation of others. Normal binocular development leads to progressive refinement of monocular visual acuity, stereoacuity and fusion of images from both eyes. At the end of the 'critical period', structural and functional brakes such as dampening of acetylcholine receptor signalling and formation of perineuronal nets limit further synaptic remodelling. Imbalanced visual input from the two eyes can lead to imbalanced neural processing and permanent visual deficits, the commonest of which is amblyopia.
Summary: The efficacy of new behavioural, physical and pharmacological interventions aiming to balance visual input and visual processing have been described in humans, and some are currently under evaluation in randomised controlled trials. Outcomes may change amblyopia treatment for children and adults, but the safety of new approaches will need careful monitoring, as permanent adverse events may occur when plasticity is re-induced after the end of the critical period.Video abstracthttp://links.lww.com/CONR/A42.