MAR 17, 2016 01:30 PM PDT

Special Lecturer - Unlocking the power of the infant brain

Presented At Neuroscience
  • Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Professor of Neurology, Center for Brain Science, Harvard University
      Dr. Hensch holds joint faculty appointments in Neurology at Harvard Medical School at Boston Children's Hospital and in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University's Center for Brain Science. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Francisco, and helped to launch the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, where he continues to serve as special advisor.

      Dr. Hensch has received the Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award in both the US (2005) and in Japan (2001 Tsukahara Prize). He also received a National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award in 2007. He serves on the editorial board of several peer-reviewed journals, including Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, Neural Development, Neuroscience Research, Frontiers in Neural Circuits, and Neuron.

      Dr. Hench's research involves the study of critical periods of brain development. By applying cellular and molecular biology techniques to neural systems, his lab has identified pivotal inhibitory circuits that orchestrate structural and functional rewiring of connections in response to early sensory experience. His work affects not only the basic understanding of brain development, but also therapeutic approaches to devastating cognitive disorders later in life.


    Maturing neural circuits are dramatically shaped by the environment, but this timing varies across brain regions and plasticity declines with age. Focusing on cellular/molecular mechanisms underlying these developmental trajectories, this lecture explores specific events controlling the onset and closure of such ‘critical periods’. The dynamic balance of emerging excitatory-inhibitory (E/I) circuitry triggers plasticity. Targeting particular GABA circuits by pharmacological or genetic manipulations can either accelerate or delay critical period onset. Instead, plasticity appears to wind down as brake-like molecular factors emerge to stabilize adult networks. Lifting these brakes reopens windows of circuit rewiring, carrying broad implications for understanding the etiology and potential therapeutic strategies toward neurodevelopmental disorders or recovery from brain injury in adulthood.

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