The past few years have witnessed increasing interest in devising programs to enhance early childhood development. We review current understandings of brain development, recent advances in this field, and their implications for clinical interventions. An expanding body of basic science laboratory data demonstrates that several interventions, including environmental enrichment, level of parental interaction, erythropoietin, antidepressants, transcranial magnetic stimulation, transcranial direct current stimulation, hypothermia, nutritional supplements, and stem cells, can enhance cerebral plasticity. Emerging clinical data, using functional magnetic resonance imaging and clinical evaluations, also support the hypothesis that clinical interventions can increase the developmental potential of children, rather than merely allowing the child to achieve an already predetermined potential. Such interventions include early developmental enrichment programs, which have improved cognitive function; high-energy and high-protein diets, which have increased brain growth in infants with perinatal brain damage; constraint-induced movement therapy, which has improved motor function in patients with stroke, cerebral palsy, and cerebral hemispherectomy; and transcranial magnetic stimulation, which has improved motor function in stroke patients.
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