Forever young: Neoteny, neurogenesis and a critique of critical periods in olfaction.
The critical period concept has been one of the most transcendent in science, education, and society forming the basis of our fixation on 'quality' of childhood experiences. The neural basis of this process has been revealed in developmental studies of visual, auditory and somatosensory maps and their enduring modification through manipulations of experience early in life. Olfaction, too, possesses a number of phenomena that share key characteristics with classical critical periods like sensitive temporal windows and experience dependence. In this review, we analyze the candidate critical period-like phenomena in olfaction and find them disanalogous to classical critical periods in other sensory systems in several important ways. This leads us to speculate as to why olfaction may be alone among exteroceptive systems in lacking classical critical periods and how life-long neurogenesis of olfactory sensory neurons and bulbar interneurons-a neotenic vestige-- relates to the structure and function of the mammalian olfactory system.
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