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Posts Tagged ‘Development’

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Learning to read emotions and faces is important for our well-being.  For some of us, the act of gazing into another person’s eyes is innately rewarding … especially if they are smiling.  New mothers and their infants can be found locked in each others smiling countenance … thus strengthening the developing neural pathways upon which the infant’s future social skills will grow.

One component of these neural pathways is the CNR1 gene expressed in the striatum and other brain regions that process rewarding and positively-reinforcing stimuli.  For most of us, a happy smiling face is positively rewarding … moreso with certain CNR1 genotypes.

From Drs. Baron-Cohen and Chakrabarti:

“A comparison of these results with those from our earlier fMRI study reveals that for the SNP rs806377, the allelic group (CC) associated with the highest striatal response is also associated with the longest gaze duration for happy faces. For rs806380, the allelic group associated with the highest striatal response (GG) is also associated with the longest gaze duration for happy faces.”

My 23andMe profile shows both the long-gaze CC and GG genotypes for rs806377 and rs806380.  Mmmmkay … I guess this would be a good time to apologize to all the girls I inappropriately stared at in the cafeteria back in college … even though you weren’t usually smiling back at me.  I guess my CNR1 and striatum were pretty overactive.

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Are you good at reading faces?  You can test yourself  (here, here, here) or just get off the interwebz and go talk to a real person.

The MET and the AKT genes encode proteins that are involved in early brain development and in the production of new synapses.  Since reading faces requires a lifetime of trial-and-error learning (ie. making new synaptic connections), these genes would likely support the development of facial recognition skills.

From the original article:  “When the individuals who were [MET/AKT rs2237717/rs1130233] C carrier and G carrier simultaneously were used as the reference group, their facial emotion perception was better than that of those with TT/AA  (p=0.015).”

I’m a MET/AKT rs2237717/rs1130233 CC/GG and, as my genome predicts,  a pretty good face reader … but am not sure if this is a good thing.  Why are you looking at me like that?

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Have you ever suddenly realized, “OMG, I’m just like my dad (or mom)!”  Oh, the horror .. the horror.  Here’s John Updike from A Month of Sundays:

Also my father, who in space-time occupied a stark room of a rest home an hour distant, which he furnished with a vigorous and Protean suite of senility’s phantoms, was in a genetic dimension unfolding within me, as time advanced, and occupying my body like, as Colette had written to illustrate another phenomenon, a hand being forced into a tight glove.

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Construction work at the TVA's Douglas Dam, Te...

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Nope …

“On mathematical grounds, it is difficult to understand how 10-to-the-14th synaptic connections in the human brain could be controlled by a genome with approximately 10-to-the-6th genes.”

“… the classic dichotomy between “hard-wired” nativism and the “plasticity” championed by anti-nativists was woefully off the mark. Historically, “Anti-nativists”—critics of the view that we might be born with significant mental structure prior to experience—have often attempted to downplay the significance of genes by appealing to neural plasticity, viz. the brain’s resilience to damage and its ability to modify itself in response to experience, while nativists often seem to think that their position rests on downplaying (or demonstrating limits on) plasticity.”

Well, sort of … think of genes as used for pre-wiring while experience then shapes the pre-wired system.

“… it may be more profitable to draw a distinction, between prewiring and rewiring—each of which can be had in abundance without precluding the other.”

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Can you imagine uttering that phrase in the future? Yep.

“… transgenic mice with increased Setdb1 expression in adult forebrain neurons show antidepressant-like phenotypes in behavioral paradigms for anhedonia, despair and learned helplessness.”

SETDB1 is a protein that helps methylate lysine #9 on the histone H3 DNA binding protein … which leads to DNA CpG methylation … which leads to repression of the NMDA receptor subunit, NR2B/Grin2b … which leads to the anti-depressant-like phenotype.

Recall that 60% of CpGs are methylated and that, in the brain (unlike other terminally differentiated tissues), these methyl groups are popping on and off a lot … perhaps reflecting an ongoing, constant tuning of the inhibition/excitation balance.

thanks for the pic whaddap.

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Image by Myelin Repair Foundation via Flickr

from Ye et al., 2009:

HDAC1/2 genes encode proteins that modify the epigenome (make it less accessible for gene expression).

When HDAC1/2 functions around the HES5 and ID2/4 (repressors of white matter development) genes, the epigenetic changes (less acetylation of chromatin) helps to repress the repressors.

This type of epigenetic repression of gene expression (genes that repress white matter development) is essential for white matter development.

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Yogic wisdom from kids?  Maybe.  Check out the upcoming lecture series at the Rubin Museum of Art: “Talk about Nothing” (literally, discussions on what “nothing” means) given by, among many others, developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik and scottish actor Brian Cox.

Alison Gopnik argues that the minds of children could help us understand deep philosophical questions. A father of a new family of two, acclaimed British Shakespearean Brian Cox explains how he divests himself of his own personality (no-self) before assuming another for the stage.

Professor Gopnik has some great books and online interviews (here, here, here) on this topic already!

From her new book, The Philosophical Baby:

This new science holds answers to some of the deepest and oldest questions about what it means to be human. A new baby’s captivated gaze at her mother’s face lays the foundations for love and morality. A toddler’s unstoppable explorations of his playpen hold the key to scientific discovery. A three-year-old’s wild make-believe explains how we can imagine the future, write novels, and invent new technologies. Alison Gopnik—a leading psychologist and philosopher, as well as a mother—explains the groundbreaking new psychological, neuroscientific, and philosophical developments in our understanding of very young children, transforming our understanding of how babies see the world, and in turn promoting a deeper appreciation for the role of parents.

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