Human Brains Wire Up Slowly but Surely
Posted February 25, 2012on:
As the father-to-son exchange in the old Cat Stevens song advised, “take your time, think a lot, … think of everything you’ve got.” Turns out the mellow ’70s folkie had stumbled upon what may explain a key feature of our brains that sets us apart from our closest relatives: We unhurriedly make synaptic connections through much of our early childhoods, and this plasticity enables us to slowly wire our brains based on our experiences.
Given that humans and chimpanzees share 98.8% of the same genes, researchers have long wondered what drives our unique cognitive and social skills. Yes, chimpanzees are smart and cooperative to a degree, but we clearly outshine them when it comes to abstract thinking, self-regulation, assimilation of cultural knowledge, and reasoning abilities. Now a study that looks at postmortem brain samples from humans, chimpanzees, and macaques collected from before birth to up to the end of the life span for each of these species has found a key difference in the expression of genes that control the development and function of synapses, the connections among neurons through which information flows.