An Olfactory Critical Period

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Science  11 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6180, pp. 157-158
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253136

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During development of the mammalian nervous system, initially imprecise neuronal connections are refined to generate mature, accurately wired circuits that support perception, cognition, and behavior. This developmental refinement typically depends on neuronal activity; hence, most sensory systems exhibit “critical periods” of heightened sensitivity to sensory experience. By contrast, the olfactory system retains high levels of plasticity throughout life, and there is mixed evidence as to the existence of critical periods. On pages 197 and 194 of this issue, Tsai and Barnea (1) and Ma et al. (2), respectively, support the existence of an unconventional, experience-independent, critical period for the mammalian olfactory system.