In comparison with other primate species, humans have an extended juvenile period during which the brain is more plastic. In the current study we sought to examine gene expression in the cerebral cortex during development in the context of this adaptive plasticity. We introduce an approach designed to discriminate genes with variable as opposed to uniform patterns of gene expression and found that greater inter-individual variance is observed among children than among adults. For the 337 transcripts that show this pattern, we found a significant overrepresentation of genes annotated to the immune system process (pFDR≅0). Moreover, genes known to be important in neuronal function, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), are included among the genes more variably expressed in childhood. We propose that the developmental period of heightened childhood neuronal plasticity is characterized by more dynamic patterns of gene expression in the cerebral cortex compared to adulthood when the brain is less plastic. That an overabundance of these genes are annotated to the immune system suggests that the functions of these genes can be thought of not only in the context of antigen processing and presentation, but also in the context of nervous system development.
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