Spanning functions from the simplest reflex arc to complex cognitive processes, neural
Circuits have diverse functional roles.
In the cerebral cortex, functional domains such as visual processing, attention,
memory, and cognitive control rely on the development of distinct yet interconnected sets of anatomically distributed cortical and subcortical regions. The developmental organization of these circuits is a remarkably complex process that is influenced by genetic predispositions, environmental events, and neuroplastic responses to experiential demand that modulates connectivity and communication among neurons, within individual brain regions and circuits, and across neural pathways.
Recent advances in neuroimaging and computational neurobiology, together with traditional investigational approaches such as histological studies and cellular and molecular biology, have been invaluable in improving our understanding of these developmental processes in humans in both health and illness. To contextualize the developmental origins of a wide array of neuropsychiatric illnesses, this review describes the development and maturation of neural circuits from the first synapse through critical periods of vulnerability and opportunity to the emergent capacity for cognitive and behavioral regulation, and finally the dynamic interplay across levels of circuit organization and developmental epochs.