Neural circuits are shaped by experience in early postnatal life. The permanent loss of visual acuity (amblyopia) and anatomical remodeling within primary visual cortex following monocular deprivation is a classic example of critical period development from mouse to man. Recent work in rodents reveals a residual subthreshold potentiation of open eye response throughout life. Resetting excitatory-inhibitory balance or removing molecular 'brakes' on structural plasticity may unmask the potential for recovery of function in adulthood. Novel pharmacological or environmental interventions now hold great therapeutic promise based on a deeper understanding of critical period mechanisms.