The journal Science has an issue dedicated to brain development and brain plasticity. Models of the brain have changed from viewing plasticity as something occurring only at the early developmental stages to a view stressing a life-long plasticity of the brain. As a result, we need new understandings of how the brain works at all ages, and if there are qualitative stages or changes in the brain between different life age stages, e.g. in how genes are expressed. Neither the mind or its fatty counterpart should be seen as stable over time, and significant changes occur even in the oldest age; changes that are not attributable to degeneration only. even old brains can learn.
Neuroscience: Systems-Level Brain Development
Peter Stern and Pamela J. Hines
Our brains show the highest degree of plasticity during the early phases of life. However, not all is lost as we advance in years. A certain level of flexibility and adaptability will be with us throughout life. To fully understand the operations and functions behind these processes, it is not enough to concentrate solely on the molecular and cellular components and their interactions. Nor, at the other end of the spectrum, is the study of higher cognitive functions sufficient: It is often too remote to provide comprehensible mechanistic insight. The leap from cells to thought seems almost infinitely complex, yet every growing child manages to make it. Somewhere in this middle ground, between molecular components and psychology, lie the means by which familial and educational experiences intersect with developmental biology to shape cognitive abilities and personalities. We have thus decided to focus on the systems level instead. This approach has been extremely successful over the years and provided us with a wealth of novel and sometimes astonishing insights. (…)