A new Special Feature of EJN focused on the development and plasticity of thalamocortical systems has now been published online.
In February 2011, scientists assembled in Arolla, a picturesque village in the Swiss Alps, to discuss aspects of thalamocortical development and function. In this special issue of European Journal of Neuroscience, we recapitulate some of the topics discussed at the meeting and argue that the years of glory may be back; with the ever-expanding availability of molecular approaches that enable cell-type-specific manipulation of cell identity and activity, the field is poised to bloom with new discoveries. The areas of interest that can now be investigated range from embryonic day 10 to adulthood, and from the specification of distinct subtypes of thalamocortical neuronal subtypes to the mechanisms controlling the experience-dependent pruning of thalamocortical axons. There is much ground to be covered. While the neocortex is 250 millions years younger than the thalamus (Butler, 2008;Butler et al., 2011) and has a tremendous diversity of cell types compared with the thalamus, our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that control the generation, migration and specification of neocortical neurons is much more detailed than in the thalamus (Lui et al., 2011). Similarly, on a larger anatomical scale, while the molecular controls over cortical area formation are increasingly understood, very little is known on how the thalamus becomes parcelled into functionally distinct nuclei (by the Guest Editors: Denis Jabaudon and Guillermina López Bendito).