Annual Research Review: Epigenetic mechanisms and environmental shaping of the brain during sensitive periods of development

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Experiences during early development profoundly affect development of the central nervous system (CNS) to impart either risk for or resilience to later psychopathology. Work in the developmental neuroscience field is providing compelling data that epigenetic marking of the genome may underlie aspects of this process. Experiments in rodents continue to show that experiences during sensitive periods of development influence DNA methylation patterns of several genes. These experience-induced DNA methylation patterns represent stable epigenetic modifications that alter gene transcription throughout the lifespan and promote specific behavioral outcomes. We discuss the relevance of these findings to humans, and also briefly discuss these findings in the broader contexts of cognition and psychiatric disorder. We conclude by discussing the implications of these observations for future research.

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