Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology


Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Professor of Neurology

Email: hensch@mcb.harvard.edu
Phone: 617-384-5882

Mail: NW 347.10
Northwest Building
52 Oxford St
Cambridge, MA  02138

Hensch Lab Website
Members of the Hensch Lab
List of Publications from PubMed


MCB 146. Experience-Based Brain Development: Causes and Consequences
Catalog Number: 5390  View Course Website
Term: Spring Term 2014-2015.
Instructor: Takao Hensch
Course Level: For Undergraduates and Graduates
Description: At no time in life does the surrounding environment so potently shape brain function as in infancy and early childhood. This course integrates molecular/cellular biology with systems neuroscience to explore biological mechanisms underlying critical periods in brain development. Understanding how neuronal circuits are sculpted by experience will motivate further consideration of the social impact on therapy, education, policy, and ethics.
Prerequisite(s): LPS A or LS 1a, MCB 80, and permission of the instructor.
Meetings: Tu., Th., 2-3:30
MCB 328. Neuronal Circuit Development
Catalog Number: 5728  View Course Website
Term: Fall Term And Spring Term 2014-2015.
Instructor: Takao Hensch
Course Level: Exclusively for Graduates
NEUROBIO 396. Critical Period Mechanisms of Experience-Dependent Brain Development
Catalog Number: 0142  View Course Website
Term: Fall Term And Spring Term 2014-2015.
Instructor: Takao Hensch
Course Level: Exclusively for Graduates
(View all MCB Courses)


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 brain injury in adulthood.

Our laboratory explores the 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 regions and systems. Remarkably, a specific, local inhibitory circuit may drive critical period onset in visual cortex. Downstream of this trigger lies an extracellular proteolytic cascade and structural reorganizations, which ultimately consolidate plasticity. Imaging efforts at the Center for Brain Science will visualize the dynamic re-wiring of connections in mouse models to provide further insight for translational research into disorders of critical period development at Children’s Hospital Boston.


Barkat TR, Polley DB, Hensch TK (2011) A critical period for auditory thalamocortical connectivity. Nature Neurosci. 14: 1189-1194

Morishita H, Miwa JM, Heintz N, Hensch TK. (2010) Lynx1, a cholinergic brake, limits plasticity in adult visual cortex. Science 330: 1238-40.

Yazaki-Sugiyama Y, Kang S, C√Ęteau H, Fukai T, Hensch TK. (2009) Bidirectional plasticity in fast-spiking GABA circuits by visual experience. Nature 462: 218-21.

Sugiyama S, Di Nardo AA, Aizawa S, Matsuo I, Volovitch M, Prochiantz A, Hensch TK. (2008) Experience-dependent transfer of Otx2 homeoprotein into the visual cortex activates postnatal plasticity. Cell 134: 508-520.

Morishita H, Hensch TK. (2008) Critical period revisited: impact on vision. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 18: 101-107.

Katagiri H, Fagiolini M, Hensch TK. (2007) Optimization of somatic inhibition at critical period onset in mouse visual cortex. Neuron. 53: 805-812.

Hensch TK, Stryker MP. (2004) Columnar architecture sculpted by GABA circuits in developing cat visual cortex. Science. 303: 1678-1681.

Hensch, T.K. (2005) Critical period plasticity in local cortical circuits. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 6: 877-888.

Mataga, N., Mizuguchi, Y. & Hensch, T.K. (2004) Experience-dependent pruning of dendritic spines in visual cortex by tissue plasminogen activator. Neuron 44: 1031-1041.

Fagiolini, M., Fritschy, J-M., Löw, K., Möhler, H., Rudolph, U. & Hensch, T.K. (2004) Specific GABAA circuits for visual cortical plasticity. Science 303: 1681-1683.

Hensch, T.K. (2004) Critical Period Regulation. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 27: 549-579.

Miyamoto, H., Katagiri, H. & Hensch, T.K. (2003) Experience-dependent slow-wave sleep development. Nature Neurosci. 6: 553-554.

updated: 12/06/2016