Early childhood experiences influence the brain for life

Among the hot topics of debate at last month’s SFN meeting was that of the developing brain and how early childhood experiences, whether good or bad, influence the brain for a lifetime. 

Regina Sullivan of New York University postulates that child abuse-related epigenetic changes, which alter the brain, are passed on to the next generation, perhaps explaining the cycle of abuse observed in many families. (The development and maintenance of an organism is orchestrated by a set of chemical reactions that switch parts of the genome off and on at strategic times and locations. Epigenetics is the study of these reactions and the factors that influence them.)

The primary evidence for stress-related changes comes from human brain imaging, which has uncovered brain differences between children with a typical childhood and those who suffer abuse.

However, work being done by Bruce McEwen, professor of neuroscience at Rockefeller University in New York, shows that the effects of childhood experiences such as neglect or abuse, can be reversed through interventions such as high-quality early care and education programmes.

Source: New Scientist

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