Mice, windows, and the brain

Scientific American’s Science News reports on research about new nerve cells in adult brains.

Neurogenesis is a relatively new idea — the report says evidence for neurogenesis in humans emerged only in the past ten years. The study looks at whether newly-forming neurons in older mice differed from older cells.

…there is a two-week window… about a month after these new cells hatch during which they act like the neurons of a newborn baby…. During this time, the cell synapses… that are artifically stimulated become stronger.

This strengthening, known as long-term potentiation, results in more efficient information transfer between cells, and is thought to prime them to learn.

One expert cautions that adult neurogenesis is limited to specific parts of the brain. On the other hand, he points out that what matters is the age of the individual neuron, rather than the brain as a whole.

Since it’s hard to know where and when these new cells are forming, this could be an argument (as if you needed another) for keeping up the level of stimulus to your brain.

Another (very long-term) possibility is eventually treading diseases in which mature neurons have died — introducing young neurons could “make the older circuitry more plastic” and adaptable.