Research ArticlesNeuroscience

Restoring auditory cortex plasticity in adult mice by restricting thalamic adenosine signaling

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Science  30 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6345, pp. 1352-1356
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4612

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Reopening a critical period

Young brains, compared with adult brains, are plastic. This phenomenon has given rise to the concept of critical periods, during which acquisition of certain skills is optimal. In mice, an auditory critical period is only open in early postnatal days. The youthful brain tunes circuits to sounds in its environment in a way that the adult brain does not. This facility may form the basis for childhood language acquisition in humans. Blundon et al. show that by manipulating adenosine signaling in mice, some plasticity of the adult auditory cortex can be regained (see the Perspective by Kehayas and Holmaat). Disruption of adenosine production or adenosine receptor signaling in adult mice leads to improved tone discrimination abilities.

Science, this issue p. 1352; see also p. 1335


Circuits in the auditory cortex are highly susceptible to acoustic influences during an early postnatal critical period. The auditory cortex selectively expands neural representations of enriched acoustic stimuli, a process important for human language acquisition. Adults lack this plasticity. Here we show in the murine auditory cortex that juvenile plasticity can be reestablished in adulthood if acoustic stimuli are paired with disruption of ecto-5′-nucleotidase–dependent adenosine production or A1–adenosine receptor signaling in the auditory thalamus. This plasticity occurs at the level of cortical maps and individual neurons in the auditory cortex of awake adult mice and is associated with long-term improvement of tone-discrimination abilities. We conclude that, in adult mice, disrupting adenosine signaling in the thalamus rejuvenates plasticity in the auditory cortex and improves auditory perception.

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