We still don’t know what properties of the brain promote and limit the ability to learn although behaviorally, we observe individual, sex, and age differences in the long-term effects of experience.
Memory formation requires that two major levels of neurobiology are coordinated 1) the presence of a subset of cells, or "ensemble," that are capable of participating in memory storage and 2) the triggering of appropriate molecular and genomic changes in response to experience. The challenges of placing molecular underpinnings of neural plasticity within cell populations that are engaged in memory formation are compounded by the need to behaviorally link cellular and molecular brain properties to the ability to learn.
In the London Lab, we take advantage of a model system that has a Critical Period for sensory learning, the zebra finch songbird, to discover how epigenetic mechanisms, genomic regulation, molecular signaling, and cell subtypes contribute to the ability to learn complex natural behaviors. Because Critical Periods define restricted phases in development when an experience is optimally encoded in ways that have long-term consequences on brain function and behavioral patterns, we can meaningfully link neural properties before, during, and after the Critical Period to behavioral outcomes.