Takao Kurt Hensch

Takao Kurt Hensch

Professor of Neurology
Takao Kurt Hensch

Much of our adult behavior reflects the neural circuits sculpted by experience in infancy and early childhood. At no other time in life does the surrounding environment so potently shape brain function – from basic motor skills, sensation or sleep to higher cognitive processes like language. Understanding how this plasticity waxes and wanes with age carries an impact far beyond neuroscience, including education policy, therapeutic approaches to developmental disorders or strategies for recovery from injury in adulthood.

Our laboratory explores mechanisms underlying critical periods of brain development. Research is aimed at the interface between cell biology and neuroscience - applying cellular/molecular techniques to elucidate complex neural systems. We have achieved the first direct control over critical period timing in the visual system (Hensch 2005). By manipulating inhibitory transmission in the neocortex, amblyopic effects of deprivation are delayed (by gene-targeted reduction of GABA synthesis) or accelerated (by cortical infusion of a positive GABA receptor modulator, diazepam).

A major goal now is to establish the generality of this principle of excitatory-inhibitory balance across brain systems. Remarkably, a specific inhibitory circuit may drive critical period onset in the visual cortex. Downstream of this trigger lies an extracellular proteolytic cascade and structural reorganization, which ultimately consolidates development. These insights suggest novel therapeutic strategies for surmounting ‘brakes' on plasticity in adulthood. Imaging efforts at the Center for Brain Science will visualize the dynamic re-wiring of connections in mouse models to provide further direction for translational research into disorders of critical period development at Children's Hospital Boston.

Contact Information

Harvard University, Center for Brain Science
Northwest Building, Room 347.10
52 Oxford St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
p: 617-384-5882