Advertisement

The Nature-Nurture Problem Revisited

  • Wolf Singer
Chapter

Abstract

The plan is to describe the changes in neuronal mechanisms that are associated with two important transitions in brain development—the transition from prenatal to postnatal life and the transition from puberty to adulthood. Until birth, developmental processes are controlled mainly by biochemical signaling systems that read structural information from genes and regulate gene expression as a function of developmental progress. This process continues until puberty but gets progressively more under the control of electrical activity generated by the maturing nerve nets. Since sense organs become functional after birth, this electrical activity is modulated to a large extent by sensory signals, and hence experience assumes the role of an important shaping factor for the development of neuronal architectures. During this phase of development, experience leads to irreversible modifications of the genetically determined blueprint of neuronal connections. In this process, cognitive and motor functions are adapted to the actual requirements of the encountered environment, and neuronal resources become assigned to particular functions as a result of exercise. Around the time of puberty, the developmental processes proper such as the formation and breaking of synaptic connections come to an end, but experience continues to modulate the functions of the now crystallized anatomical substrate by modifying the strength of established synaptic connections. This process is the basis for adult learning. Particular emphasis is laid on the evidence that these adaptive processses are all supervised by central gating systems that permit changes only in response to activity patterns that are identified as concordant with genetically prespecified expectancies of the developing brain and that are identified as behaviorally relevant. Together with the well-defined rules that govern experience-dependent modifications of the neuronal architecture and of synaptic weights, this constrains the range of modifications that can be induced by early imprinting and subsequent learning. Also explored is the extent to which the knowledge about these constraining factors is relevant for educational programs intended to unfold latent capacities, to encourage the development of special skills, and to rescue functions that have either failed to develop or were lost as a consequence of disease.

Keywords

Visual Cortex Developmental Process Synaptic Connection Sensory Experience Adult Learning 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Antonini, A., & Stryker, M. P. (1993). Rapid remodeling of axonal arbors in the visual cortex. Science, 260, 1819–1821.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Assal, R., & Innocenti, G. M. (1993). Transient intra-areal axons in developing cat visual cortex. Cerebral Cortex, 3, 290–303.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baltes, P. B. (1987). Theoretical propositions of life-span developmental psychology: On the dynamics between growth and decline. Developmental Psychology, 23, 611–626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baltes, P. B. (1997). On the incomplete architecture of human ontogeny: Selection, optimization, and compensation as foundation of developmental theory. American Psychologist, 52, 366–380.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baltes, P. B. (1998). Testing the limits of the ontogenetic sources of talent and excellence. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 407–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baltes, P. B., & Kliegl, R. (1992). Further testing of limits of cognitive plasticity: Negative age differences in a mnemonic skill are robust. Developmental Psychology, 28, 121–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burghalter, A., Beranrdo, K. L., & Charles, V. (1993). Development of local circuits in human visual cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 13, 1916–1931.Google Scholar
  8. Changeux, J.-P., & Danchin, A. (1976). Selective stabilisation of developing synapses as a mechanism for the specification of neuronal networks. Nature, 264, 705–712.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Elbert, T., Pantev, C., Wienbruch, C. Rockstroh, B., & Taub, E. (1995). Increased cortical representation of the fingers of the left hand in string players. Science, 270, 305–307.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Engert, F., & Bonhoeffer, T. (1999). Dendritic spine changes associated with hippocampal long-term synaptic plasticity. Nature, 399, 66–70.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Frost, D. O., & Innocenti, G. M. (1986). Effects of sensory experience on the development of visual callosal connections. In F. Lepore, F. M. Ptiti, & H. H. Jasper (Eds.), Two hemispheres, one brain. New York: Liss.Google Scholar
  12. Galuske, R. A. W., Schlote, W., Bratzke, H., & Singer, W. (2000). Interhemispheric asymmetries of the modular structure in human temporal cortex. Science, 289, 1946–1949.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Galuske, R. A. W., & Singer, W. (1996). The origin and topography of long-range intrinsic projections in cat visual cortex: A developmental study. Cerebral Cortex, 6, 417–430.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Goodman, C. S., & Shatz, C. J. (1993). Developmental mechanisms that generate precise patterns of neuronal connectivity. Cell, 72 (Suppl.) 77–98.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gustafsson, B., & Wigstroem, H. (1988). Physiological mechanisms underlying long-term potentiation. TINS, 11, 156–162.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Held, R., & Hein, A. (1963). Movement-produced stimulation in the development of visually guided behavior. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 56, 872–876.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jenkins, W. M., Merzenich, M. M., Ochs, M. T., Allard, T., & Guic-Robles, E. (1990). Functional reorganization of primary somatosensory cortex in adult owl monkeys after behaviorally controlled tactile stimulation. Journal of Neurophysiology, 63, 82–104.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. King, A. J., Hutchings, M. E., Moore, D. R., & Blakemore, C. (1988). Developmental plasticity in the visual and auditory representations in the mammalian superior colliculus. Nature, 332, 73–76.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. King, A. J., & Moore, D. R. (1991). Plasticity of auditory maps in the brain. TINS, 14, 31–37.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Kono, T., & Raff, M. (2000). Oligodendrocyte precursor cells reprogrammed to become multipotential CNS stem cells. Science, 289, 1754–1757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lowel, S., & Singer, W. (1992). Selection of intrinsic horizontal connections in the visual cortex by correlated neuronal activity. Science, 255, 209–212.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Pascual-Leone, A., & Torres, F. (1993). Plasticity of the sensorimotor cortex representation of the reading finger in Braille readers. Brain, 116, 39–52.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Rauschecker, J. P. (1995). Compensatory plasticity and sensory substitution in the cerebral cortex. Trends in Neuroscience, 18, 36–43.Google Scholar
  24. Rauschecker, J. P. (1999). Auditory cortical plasticity: A comparison with other sensory systems. Trends in Neuroscience, 22, 74–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rauschecker, J. P., & Korte, M. (1993). Auditory compensation for early blindness in cat cerebral cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 13, 4538–4548.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Rauschecker, J. P., & Singer, W. (1979). Changes in the circuitry of the kitten visual cortex are gated by postsynaptic activity. Nature, 280, 58–60.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rauschecker, J. P., & Singer, W. (1981). The effects of early visual experience on the cat’s visual cortex and their possible explanation by Hebb synapses. Journal of Physiology (London), 310, 215–239.Google Scholar
  28. Sadato, N., Pascual-Leone, A., Grafman, J., Ibanez, V., Deiber, M.-R, Dold, G., & Hallett, M. (1996). Activation of the primary visual cortex by Braille reading in blind subjects. Nature, 380, 526–528.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Shors, T. J., Miesegaes, G., Beylin, A., Zhao, M., Rydel, T., & Gould, E. (2001). Neurogenesis in the adult is involved in the formation of trace memories. Nature, 410, 372–376.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Singer, W. (1990). The formation of cooperative cell assemblies in the visual cortex. Journal of Experimental Biology, 153, 177–197.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Singer, W. (1995). Development and plasticity of cortical processing architectures. Science, 270, 758–764.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Singer, W., & Artola, A. (1995). The role of NMDA receptors in use-dependent synaptic plasticity of the visual cortex. In H. Wheal & A. Thomson (Eds.), Excitatory amino acids and synaptic transmission (2nd ed.). London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  33. Stent, G. S. (1973). A physiological mechanism for Hebb’s postulate of learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 70, 997–1001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tchernichovski, O., Mitra, P. P., Lints, T, & Nottebohm, F. (2001). Dynamics of the vocal imitation process: How a zebra finch learns its song. Science, 291, 2564–2569.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. von Noorden, G. K. (1990). Binocular vision and ocular motility: Theory and management of strabismus. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolf Singer
    • 1
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Brain ResearchFrankfurt am MainGermany

Personalised recommendations