The Child & Brain Development program has significantly increased knowledge about the way early experiences influence biological development and lead to health differences over time. Program members conduct basic, field and clinical research and come from a wide range of disciplines, including neurobiology, epidemiology, paediatrics, molecular genetics, psychiatry, psychology and anthropology.
They study not only the complex interactions of genes with children’s early environments, but also the neural processes and molecular pathways by which those interactions act on development.
Senior Fellow Michael Meaney’s work showed that rat pup genes could be turned on and off based on how the mother cared for them
The work of program fellows has galvanized scientific interest in the importance of early life experience. Increased understanding of biological embedding is helping them to test interventions that prevent or moderate the negative impact of early adversity, better understand its effects across multiple generations, and determine the optimal timing of education for children.
The program in Population Health, the precursor to Child & Brain Development, had a strong impact in the field, culminating in the publication of Why are Some People Healthy and Others Not?, an influential book which for the first time laid out the broad case for population health and was widely taught and reviewed.
Program Co-Director Marla Sokolowski’s work on fruit flies laid important ground in the genetic and molecular bases of natural individual differences in behaviour. Here a fruit fly with the “sitter” variant of a gene feeds on a banana
The program was founded in 2003 under the name Experience-based Brain and Biological Development, and is in its third five-year cycle. The current scientific agenda focuses on research to address the mediating, neurodevelopmental processes within the brain that likely underlie how genes and environments work together to affect individual trajectories of development and health.
Researchers with the program have made pioneering contributions to the study of the interplay between genes and the environment, including epigenetics. They have mapped, defined and modelled development and health disparities in human populations, and established animal models to simulate and explain the interaction of genes and environments in the genesis of illness and disordered development.
Hertzman C, Boyce T. “How experience gets under the skin to create gradients in developmental health.” Annu Rev Public Health. 2010;31:329-47. Abstract
Boyce, W.T. & Kobor , M.S> (2015) Development and the epigenome: the ‘synapse’ of gene-environment interplay. Developmental Science, 18:1-23 Abstract
Kobayashi Y, Ye Z, Hensch TK. “Clock genes control cortical critical period timing.” Neuron. 2015 April 8; 86(1): 264-75. Abstract
Hensch, T.K. et al. “Local GABA Circuit Control of Experience-Dependent Plasticity in Developing Visual Cortex.” Science 282, 1504-1508 (1998). Abstract
Contact the program’s senior director, Pamela Kanellis