Critical periods—brief intervals during which neural circuits can be modified by activity—are necessary for proper neural circuit assembly. Extended critical periods are associated with neurodevelopmental disorders; however, the mechanisms that ensure timely critical period closure remain poorly understood1,2. Here we define a critical period in a developing Drosophila motor circuit and identify astrocytes as essential for proper critical period termination. During the critical period, changes in activity regulate dendrite length, complexity and connectivity of motor neurons. Astrocytes invaded the neuropil just before critical period closure3, and astrocyte ablation prolonged the critical period. Finally, we used a genetic screen to identify astrocyte–motor neuron signalling pathways that close the critical period, including Neuroligin–Neurexin signalling. Reduced signalling destabilized dendritic microtubules, increased dendrite dynamicity and impaired locomotor behaviour, underscoring the importance of critical period closure. Previous work defined astroglia as regulators of plasticity at individual synapses4; we show here that astrocytes also regulate motor circuit critical period closure to ensure proper locomotor behaviour.
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