Critical periods are discrete developmental stages when the nervous system is especially sensitive to stimuli that facilitate circuit maturation. The distinctive landscapes assumed by the developing CNS create analogous periods of susceptibility to pathogenic insults and responsiveness to therapy. Here, we review critical periods in nervous system development and disease, with an emphasis on the neurodevelopmental disorder DYT1 dystonia. We highlight clinical and laboratory observations supporting the existence of a critical period during which the DYT1 mutation is uniquely harmful, and the implications for future therapeutic development.
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