Annales 77.2 - Young Brain Big Appetite

Editor(s): Pascal Steiner, Carol L. Cheatham, John Colombo, Kathleen m. Gustafson, Susan E. Carlson, Fan Jiang. 77.2

The first few years of life represent one of the most dynamic and critical time periods in brain development. By the age of 2, brain volume reaches about 80% of the adult brain volume. In addition to the rapid increase in brain size, critical brain functions also emerge during the first years of life and continue to mature into adulthood. While the “young brain” is relatively small when compared to the body, it has a “big appetite” for food, learning and sleep.  The chapters included in this volume provide some insights into the complex cellular processes and the neural substrates underpinning the highly dynamic processes of early brain development.


Brain Fuel Utilization in the Developing Brain

Author(s): Pascal Steiner

During pregnancy and infancy, the human brain is growing extremely fast; the brain volume increases significantly, reaching 83% of the volume of adults 2 years of age which is essential to establish the neuronal networks and capacity for the development of cognitive, motor, social, and emotional skills. Such dramatic changes in brain structure and function are associated with very large energetic demands, being estimated that during childhood the brain utilizes up to 60% of the body basal energetic requirements. During brain development, glucose and ketone bodies are not only the main sources of energy but are also utilized for the biosynthesis of macromolecules indispensable for neuronal cell proliferation, synapse formation, and myelination.

Nutritional Factors in Fetal and Infant Brain Development

Author(s): Carol L. Cheatham

Different nutrients, providing energy to the brain, may play different roles during preconception, pregnancy and after birth.  Reviewing the effects of different nutrients at different stages is clearly important since cellular processes of early brain development vary throughout pregnancy and post-natal life.  Thus, important nutrients are likely to vary depending on the stage of brain development. The importance of six nutrients that have been studied extensively with respect to maternal nutrition and subsequent offspring brain development; namely folate, iodine, iron, vitamin D, choline, and docosahexaenoic acid.

Critical and Sensitive Periods in Development and Nutrition

Author(s): John Colombo, Kathleen M. Gustafson, Susan E. Carlson

Critical and sensitive developmental periods have been key concepts in developmental science for over a century; they have a long history for bio-behavioral development and have particularly special importance with respect to the plasticity of the brain. In specific periods of development, certain experiences, exposures, or conditions are thought to exert disproportionate influence over the long-term development of the organism due to the fact that the organism is in a particularly malleable state. While critical- and sensitive-period concepts have often been used with respect to studies of early nutrition, they also underlie the concept of nutritional programming, as the implication of programming is that the prenatal period is presumably a time when various metabolic systems are malleable and can be influenced by conditions of maternal physiology and environmental exposures, including nutrient intake.

Sleep and Early Brain Development

Author(s): Fan Jiang

An infant spends most of the time sleeping during early infancy; that is, a “young brain” has a “big appetite” for sleep.  Therefore, it should not be surprised that the quality of sleep could greatly impact the development of the young brain. It has been widely implicated that sleep plays a critical role in memory functions of the adult brain.  In contrast, current evidence on the links between memory functions and sleep in infants are inclusive and warrants additional studies.  Furthermore, sleep appears to also play a key role in mental health, psychosocial adjustment, general cognitive development and language development.