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Keywords:

  • Development;
  • child;
  • brain;
  • heritability;
  • epigenetics.

Biological development is driven by a complex dance between nurture and nature, determined not only by the specific features of the interacting genetic and environmental influences but also by the timing of their rendezvous. The initiation of large-scale longitudinal studies, ever-expanding knowledge of genetics, and increasing availability of neuroimaging data to provide endophenotypic bridges between molecules and behavior are beginning to provide some insight into interactions of developmental stage, genes, and the environment, although daunting challenges remain. Prominent amongst these challenges are difficulties in identifying and quantifying relevant environmental factors, discerning the relative contributions to multiply determined outcomes, and the likelihood that brain development is a non-linear dynamic process in which small initial differences may yield large later effects. Age-sensitive mechanisms include developmental changes in gene expression, epigenetic modifications, synaptic arborization/pruning, and maturational improvements in our capacity to seek out environments of our choosing. Greater understanding of how genetic and environmental factors interact differently across ages is an important step toward elucidating the mechanisms by which phenotypes are created – and how they may differ in health and disease. This knowledge may also provide clues to guide the type and timing of interventions to maximize outcomes.