More than a small adult brain: lessons from chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment for modelling paediatric brain disorders

Maya R. Davies, Zarina Greenberg, Dannis G. van Vuurden, Courtney B. Cross, Andrew C.W. Zannettino, Cedric Bardy, Hannah R. Wardill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Childhood is recognised as a period of immense physical and emotional development, and this, in part, is driven by underlying neurophysiological transformations. These neurodevelopmental processes are unique to the paediatric brain and are facilitated by augmented rates of neuroplasticity and expanded neural stem cell populations within neurogenic niches. However, given the immaturity of the developing central nervous system, innate protective mechanisms such as neuroimmune and antioxidant responses are functionally naïve which results in periods of heightened sensitivity to neurotoxic insult. This is highly relevant in the context of paediatric cancer, and in particular, the neurocognitive symptoms associated with treatment, such as surgery, radio- and chemotherapy. The vulnerability of the developing brain may increase susceptibility to damage and persistent symptomology, aligning with reports of more severe neurocognitive dysfunction in children compared to adults. It is therefore surprising, given this intensified neurocognitive burden, that most of the pre-clinical, mechanistic research focuses exclusively on adult populations and extrapolates findings to paediatric cohorts. Given this dearth of age-specific research, throughout this review we will draw comparisons with neurodevelopmental disorders which share comparable pathways to cancer treatment related side-effects. Furthermore, we will examine the unique nuances of the paediatric brain along with the somatic systems which influence neurological function. In doing so, we will highlight the importance of developing in vitro and in vivo paediatric disease models to produce age-specific discovery and clinically translatable research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-247
Number of pages19
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Jan 2024


  • Chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment
  • Childhood cancer survivorship
  • Neurocognitive disease
  • Paediatric disease model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

Cite this