Thalamocortical activity patterns, both spontaneous and evoked, undergo a dramatic shift in preparation for the onset of rich sensory experience (e.g. birth in humans; eye-opening in rodents). This change is the result of a switch from thalamocortical circuits tuned for transmission of spontaneous bursting in sense organs, to circuits capable of high resolution, active sensory processing. Early 'pre-sensory' tuning uses amplification generated by corticothalamic excitatory feedback and early-born subplate neurons to ensure transmission of bursts, at the expense of stimulus discrimination. The switch to sensory circuits is due, at least in part, to the coordinated remodeling of inhibitory circuits in thalamus and cortex. Appreciation of the distinct rules that govern early circuit function can, and should, inform translational studies of genetic and acquired developmental dysfunction.
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