Neuronal epigenesis

Knowledge of the cultural impacts on the brain’s functional architecture raises a number of epistemological and ontological issues. The brain develops in natural and cultural contexts that profoundly influence its functional architecture. Lived developmental trajectories, interactions, and social environments impact synaptic connectivity and contribute to the formation of patterns of neural activity.

Synaptic epigenesis theories of cultural and social imprinting on our brain architecture suggest that it is thereby possible to culturally influence our neural structures. In an analysis of epigenesis by selective stabilisation of synapses, this research project has been examining the relationships between genotype and brain phenotype: the paradox of non-linear evolution between genome and brain complexity; the selection of cultural circuits in the brain during development; and the genesis and epigenetic transmission of cultural imprints.


  • To highlight how neuronal epigenesis is related to the acquisition of oral and written languages, symbolic, philosophical and religious systems, and connected to the issues of cultural diversity and universality of ethical predispositions.
  • To use advances in epigenetics and neural activation as a starting point to further reflect on issues such as the development of moral norms and the potential moral obligation of humans to shape the neuronal architecture of their brains by adapting their social structures so that they promote cooperation.
  • To examine the effect of poverty on the developing brain. We propose a serious discussion on how insights provided by neuroscience can contribute to a richer discussion on collective and personal responsibilities to alleviate poverty and its detrimental effects.

Time table

Ongoing since 2016



  • Jean-Pierre Changeux, PhD Professor College de France and  Institut Pasteur, UMR 3571 CNRS Paris France

Selected publications

  • Lipina, Sebastián; Evers, Kathinka

    Neuroscience of Childhood Poverty: Evidence of Impacts and Mechanisms as Vehicles of Dialog With Ethics

    Part of Frontiers in Psychology, 2017.

    Open access
  • Salles, Arleen

    Proactive Epigenesis and Ethics

    Part of EMBO Reports, p. 1271-, 2017.

  • Evers, Kathinka; Changeux, Jean-Pierre

    Proactive epigenesis and ethical innovation

    Part of EMBO Reports, p. 1361-1364, 2016.

  • Evers, Kathinka

    Can we be epigenetically proactive?

    Part of Open MIND, 2015.

Neuroethics & Philosophy of the Brain

The CRB neuroethics research team is an international, multi-disciplinary group. Our backgrounds allow us to approach these issues from theoretical, philosophical, social, bio-political and clinical perspectives. We collaborate closely with neuroscientists to understand the ethical and philosophical questions that neuroscience brings. In this report, we provide a summary of our research. The report was updated in November 2016. We are planning an update in the autumn 2020. 

Download our Neuroethics report

Neuroethicxs & philosophy of the brain cover