Before birth, the human brain spends many busy months producing nerve cells and the connections between them. Scientists are increasingly interested in the many factors and processes influencing brain development. By understanding the steps to build a healthy brain, researchers can gain insight into what goes wrong in disorders of brain development and clues about how to repair the brain following injury.
Advanced technology is helping identify key molecules involved in making nerve cells; guiding them to specific locations; directing where they lay down connections; and assigning the chemicals the cells will use to communicate. This information could one day guide the development of new therapies for people with degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, or brain damage from stroke or injury. This research could also inform what scientists understand about autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia, which are thought to be caused by disruptions in brain development.