Epigenetics is the study of our genes â€“ what we inherit from our ancestors (our DNA), and how they can change due to environment and other outside factors. For example: Say there are identical twins in the family, and one develops cancer and one doesnâ€™t. Does that mean the twins were not actually identical in every way, or are there outside factors â€“ such as living in different areas of the country or contracting a disease the other did not catch – that would cause one to develop the cancer cells while the other did not?
In the journal Neuron, a study on epigenetics showed that environmental factors do have a bearing on the development of the brainâ€™s neuroplasticity, or ability to produce new connections within the brain. The study found that 20 minutes of intense visual stimulation during the brainâ€™s development could lead the â€œenhanced visual acuity and higher sensitivity to finer and smaller visual targets than non-conditioned controls.â€
The brain develops fastest during the first few years of life â€“ faster than it ever will again. As it develops – from birth through the age of 5, there is an overproduction of neuroconnections. As the child develops and learns the stronger connections begin to overtake and weed out the weaker ones. A good example is the use of a foreign language. Developing minds do not know the difference between accents and languages. They are still trying to decipher communication, so any word substituted will be imprinted in memory. When a child hears the spoken word it stimulates connections for correct pronunciation. When an adult hears the same word they immediately detect an accent and begin to translate. That is why teaching languages before the age of 5 works so well.
The brain neuro-connections continue to change and adapt was we develop, and through what we take in through our senses â€“ sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. The connections also alter themselves according to outside influences, such as exposure to chemicals in the air or viruses. This ability to adapt and change is known as Neuroplasticity.
Scientists believe brain diseases may be the result of errors in brain wiring due to disruption of the complex interactions between genetic and epigenetic environmental influences during neuroplasticity and brain development.
Research is advancing so scientists can understand more about neuroplasticity and epigenetics and how the brain develops. It is vital to finding advanced therapies, treatments and even early intervention. There is additional research that is trying to utilize these sciences for treatment of brain injuries and strokes, as well as developmental disorders like autism and attention deficit disorder (ADD).
Memoryzine.com – Epigenetics And Neuroplasticity Control Brain Development Right From The Start: http://memoryzine.com/2011/07/21/epigentics-and-neuroplasticity-control-brain-development-right-from-the-start/
Wikipedia â€“ Epigenetics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics
Nova – PBS video Aired July 24, 2007 â€“ Epigenetics: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/epigenetics.html