Global Compact for EC Development (2017)

Global Compact for EC Development

April 2017

Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale
October 4, 2016


Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development

3. Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University
Sep 29, 2011

Learning how to cope with adversity is an important part of healthy development. While moderate, short-lived stress responses in the body can promote growth, toxic stress is the strong, unrelieved activation of the body’s stress management system in the absence of protective adult support. Without caring adults to buffer children, the unrelenting stress caused by extreme poverty, neglect, abuse, or severe maternal depression can weaken the architecture of the developing brain, with long-term consequences for learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.

This video is part three of a three-part series titled “Three Core Concepts in Early Development” from the Center and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. The series depicts how advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, and genomics now give us a much better understanding of how early experiences are built into our bodies and brains, for better or for worse. Healthy development in the early years provides the building blocks for educational achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, lifelong health, strong communities, and successful parenting of the next generation.

Also from the “Three Core Concepts in Early Development” Series

1. Experiences Build Brain Architecture:

2. Serve & Return Interaction Shapes Brain Circuitry:

For more information, please visit:

Development of Executive Function in Youth

Modular Segregation of Structural Brain Networks Supports the Development of Executive Function in Youth
Current Biology , May 2017
Graham L. Baum, et al.

The human brain is organized into large-scale functional modules that have been shown to evolve in childhood and adolescence.
However, it remains unknown whether the underlying white matter architecture is similarly refined during development, potentially allowing for improvements in executive function.
In a sample of 882 participants (ages 8–22) who underwent diffusion imaging as part of the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort, we demonstrate that structural network modules become more segregated with age, with weaker connections between modules and stronger connections within modules.
Evolving modular topology facilitates global network efficiency and is driven by age-related strengthening of hub edges present both within and between modules.
Critically, both modular segregation and network efficiency are associated with enhanced executive performance and mediate the improvement of executive functioning with age. Together, results delineate a process of structural network maturation that supports executive function in youth.

journalistic version:

What Sleeping Babies Hear

What Sleeping Babies Hear
A Functional MRI Study of Interparental Conflict and Infants’ Emotion Processing
Alice M. Graham, et al.

Experiences of adversity in the early years of life alter the developing brain.
However, evidence documenting this relationship often focuses on severe stressors and relies on peripheral measures of neurobiological functioning during infancy.

In the present study, we employed functional MRI during natural sleep to examine associations between a more moderate environmental stressor (nonphysical interparental conflict) and 6- to 12-month-old infants’ neural processing of emotional tone of voice.
The primary question was whether interparental conflict experienced by infants is associated with neural responses to emotional tone of voice, particularly very angry speech.

Results indicated that maternal report of higher interparental conflict was associated with infants’ greater neural responses to very angry relative to neutral speech across several brain regions implicated in emotion and stress reactivity and regulation (including rostral anterior cingulate cortex, caudate, thalamus, and hypothalamus).

These findings suggest that even moderate environmental stress may be associated with brain functioning during infancy.

Keywords: psychological stress, neuroimaging, emotional development, infant development

journalistic version:
Shhh, The Kids Can Hear You Arguing (Even When They’re Asleep)
April 29, 2013

Well, let’s assume he can do everything

Clues To Autism, Schizophrenia Emerge From Cerebellum Research
March 17, 2015·

“Putting together a puzzle of a face,” Sherman says, “he initially had put the eyes in the wrong place and then looked at my face and said, ‘Oh, no, your nose actually goes between your eyes.’ ”
But during that time doctors and developmental health experts still didn’t know why Jonathan was having so much trouble. And that turned out to be a good thing, says his father, Richard. “Not knowing what the diagnosis was we said, ‘Well, let’s assume he can do everything,’ ” he says.

Intelligence changes 20 points in the teenage brain

Motor speech area. Anterior cerebellum.

Verbal and non-verbal intelligence changes in the teenage brain
Nature  479, 113–116 (03 November 2011)
Sue Ramsden,… Cathy J. Price

Intelligence quotient (IQ) is a standardized measure of human intellectual capacity that takes into account a wide range of cognitive skills. IQ is generally considered to be stable across the lifespan, with scores at one time point used to predict educational achievement and employment prospects in later years.
Neuroimaging allows us to test whether unexpected longitudinal fluctuations in measured IQ are related to brain development.

Here we show that verbal and non-verbal IQ can rise or fall in the teenage years, with these changes in performance validated by their close correlation with changes in local brain structure.
A combination of structural and functional imaging showed that verbal IQ changed with grey matter in a region that was activated by speech, whereas non-verbal IQ changed with grey matter in a region that was activated by finger movements.
By using longitudinal assessments of the same individuals, we obviated the many sources of variation in brain structure that confound cross-sectional studies.
This allowed us to dissociate neural markers for the two types of IQ and to show that general verbal and non-verbal abilities are closely linked to the sensorimotor skills involved in learning.
More generally, our results emphasize the possibility that an individual’s intellectual capacity relative to their peers can decrease or increase in the teenage years.
This would be encouraging to those whose intellectual potential may improve, and would be a warning that early achievers may not maintain their potential.

cited by:
Understanding Psychology © 2014

journalistic versions:
As Brain Changes, So Can IQ
October 20, 2011
The varying IQ scores could also indicate the test itself is flawed.
“It could be a real index of how intelligence varies or it could suggest our measures of intelligence are so variable,” said neuroimaging pioneer B.J. Casey at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, who wasn’t involved in the study.

IQ is not fixed in the teenage brain
19 October 2011
The test results revealed dramatic changes: between their first testing and their second, the teens’ verbal and nonverbal IQ scores rose or fell by as many as 20 points (on a scale for which the average is 100).

Shaping the Developing Brain: Prenatal through EC

Shaping the Developing Brain: Prenatal through Early Childhood
Fifth Annual Aspen Brain Forum
November 11 – 13, 2014
The New York Academy of Sciences

0. Keynote Address
Thomas R. Insel, MD, National Institute of Mental Health

I. Neural Development

I.1 Sensitive Periods in Brain Development
Takao Hensch, PhD, Harvard University

I.2 Structural and Molecular Changes in the Developing Brain
Ed Lein, PhD, Allen Institute for Brain Science

I.3 New Tools to Investigate Brain Development
Speaker Forthcoming

II. Cognitive Development

II.1 Language Development
Patricia Kuhl, PhD, University of Washington

II.2 Early Attachment, Emotional Development and Differential Susceptibility to Environmental Influences
Jay Belsky, PhD, University of California, Davis

II.3 Social Learning and Development
Andrew Meltzoff, PhD, University of Washington

III. Social and Environmental Influences on Brain Development
Moderator: Catherine Monk, PhD, Columbia University

III.1 Effects of a Stressful Environment on the Developing Brain and Behavior: Prenatal through Early Life
Tracy L. Bale, PhD, University of Pennsylvania

III.2 Role of Early Experience in Neuro-Affective Development
Nim Tottenham, PhD, UCLA

III.3 Impact of Poverty on the Developing Brain
Martha Farah, PhD, University of Pennsylvania

III.4 Can We Apply the Basic Principles of How Stress Affects Development to More Complex Childhood Psychopathologies?
Charles Nelson, PhD, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard University

IV. Spotlight on Nutrition and Brain Development
This session is co-presented with The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences
Moderator: Mandana Arabi, MD, PhD, The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science

IV.1 An Overview on Nutritional Status and Brain Development: The Importance of Timing in Determining the Right Intervention and Brain Assessment
Michael Georgieff, MD, University of Minnesota

IV.2 Standardizing Growth and Nutritional Status Biomarkers And The Tools To Assess Their Effects On Early Childhood Development
Edward Frongillo, PhD, University of South Carolina

IV.3 The Role of Micronutrients in Brain Development: The Most Useful Biomarkers that Relate to Optimal Childhood Development
Maureen M. Black, PhD, University of Maryland

IV.4 Iron Deficiency and the Developing Brain: a Paradigm for Interdisciplinary Approaches to Nutritional Neuroscience
Betsy Lozoff, MD, University of Michigan

V. Translating Research into Intervention, Education, and Policy
Moderator: Susan Magsamen, MS Johns Hopkins University

V.1 Leveraging Science to Improve Early Childhood Developmental Intervention
Joseph Piven, MD, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities

V.2 Minding the Baby, an Intervention to Improve Early Childhood Development Outcomes in At-Risk Mothers and Infants
Linda C. Mayes, MD, Yale School of Medicine

V.3 Intervention to Help Close the Word Gap
Dana Suskind, MD, University of Chicago, 30 Million Words Initiative

Named for a landmark study that found that children born into poverty hear 30 million fewer words by age three than more affluent children, Thirty Million Words Initiative (TMW) develops evidence-based interventions designed to impact this ‘word gap’ by targeting parental/caregiver knowledge, beliefs and language behavior at a population level.
The goal is to map our research-based interventions onto existing infrastructure nationally.
Grounded in behavior change theory, TMW’s flagship multimedia curriculum, TMW-Home Visiting, gives caregivers strategies that can strengthen children’s cognitive development using the TMW 3Ts: Tune In and respond to what children communicate; Talk More and build child vocabulary through descriptive language; and Take Turns to engage children in conversation and foster curiosity and knowledge.
TMW does not require changes to cultural practices or idiomatic speech, but rather focuses on enhancing adult-child interactions to positively impact development.
TMW has a dual-generation approach and works through three tiers of intervention.
Individual interventions focus on reaching parents and caregivers in economically disadvantaged communities. Community-based interventions targeted neighborhoods and populations through community-based, civic, cultural, religious, health and education organizations, and professional networks that provide care to children from 0-3 years of age. Population-level intervention shapes public awareness via education, public health, and information infrastructures as engines for outreach.
This presentation describes our iterative developmental approach to evidence-based interventions and presents early findings demonstrating the promise of a parent/caregiver approach to impacting the ‘word gap.’

V.4 Building Early Childhood Learning Systems: Early Head Start to the Classroom
Sharon Lynn Kagan, EdD, Teachers College, Columbia University

VI. How to Shape Policy to Address Different Critical Periods and Multiple Adversities
Moderator: Pia Britto, PhD, UNICEF

A study done in 1995 indicated that children from higher-income families heard 30 million more words at home by the age of 4 than children from low-income homes. This has become known as the 30 million-word gap.

Oct 28, 2012


Poverty and the Developing Brain: Insights from Neuroimaging
Sheeva Azma
Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, Georgetown University
Synesis 2013; 4: G40-46

Family income, parental education and brain structure in children and adolescents
Nature Neuroscience (March 30, 2015)

Improving early child development with words
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald
TEDxAtlanta, 2014

5 connections that will change children’s lives
Laura Jana, MD
TEDxOmaha, 2014

How does income affect childhood brain development?
Kimberly Noble
Apr 18, 2019
Neuroscientist and pediatrician Kimberly Noble is leading the Baby’s First Years study: the first-ever randomized study of how family income changes children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development.

Growth of the cerebral cortex

Growth and folding of the mammalian cerebral cortex: from molecules to malformations
Nature Reviews Neuroscience  15, 217–232 (2014)
Tao Sun    & Robert F. Hevner

The size and extent of folding of the mammalian cerebral cortex are important factors that influence a species’ cognitive abilities and sensorimotor skills.
Studies in various animal models and in humans have provided insight into the mechanisms that regulate cortical growth and folding.

Both protein-coding genes and microRNAs control cortical size, and recent progress in characterizing basal progenitor cells and the genes that regulate their proliferation has contributed to our understanding of cortical folding.
Neurological disorders linked to disruptions in cortical growth and folding have been associated with novel neurogenetic mechanisms and aberrant signalling pathways, and these findings have changed concepts of brain evolution and may lead to new medical treatments for certain disorders.

Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch

Jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald was said to have perfect pitch.

Want Perfect Pitch? You Might Be Able To Pop A Pill For That
January 04, 2014

As the story goes, Ella Fitzgerald‘s band would use her perfect pitch to tune their instruments.

Although it has a genetic component, most believe that perfect pitch — or absolute pitch — is a primarily a function of early life exposure and training in music, says Takao Hensch, professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard.

Hensch is studying a drug which might allow adults to learn perfect pitch by re-creating this critical period in brain development. Hensch says the drug, valproic acid, allows the brain to absorb new information as easily as it did before age 7.

“It’s a mood-stabilizing drug, but we found that it also restores the plasticity of the brain to a juvenile state,” Hensch tells us.

Hensch gave the drug to a group of healthy, young men who had no musical training as children. They were asked to perform tasks online to train their ears, and at the end of a two-week period, tested on their ability to discriminate tone, to see if the training had more effect than it normally would at their age.

original article:
Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch.
Front Syst Neurosci. 2013 Dec 3;7:102.
Gervain J, Vines BW, Chen LM, Seo RJ, Hensch TK, Werker JF, Young AH.

Absolute pitch, the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a sound without a reference point, has a critical period, i.e., it can only be acquired early in life. However, research has shown that histone-deacetylase inhibitors (HDAC inhibitors) enable adult mice to establish perceptual preferences that are otherwise impossible to acquire after youth. In humans, we found that adult men who took valproate (VPA) (a HDAC inhibitor) learned to identify pitch significantly better than those taking placebo-evidence that VPA facilitated critical-period learning in the adult human brain. Importantly, this result was not due to a general change in cognitive function, but rather a specific effect on a sensory task associated with a critical-period.

absolute pitch, critical period reopening, histone-deacetylase inhibitors, human adults, learning, valproate