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Lifelong Learning and New Neurons in Adults

Very interesting new study, Critical Period Plasticity of Adult-Born Neurons, published in the journal Neuron by a team of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers. The press release New Adult Brain Cells May Be Central To Lifelong Learning contains a good summary (the bold format is mine):

  • “The steady formation of new brain cells in adults may represent more than merely a patching up of aging brains, a new study has shown.”
  • “The new adult brain cells may serve to give the adult brain the same kind of learning ability that young brains have while still allowing the existing, mature circuitry to maintain stability.”
  • “The researchers found that the new adult neurons showed a pattern of changing plasticity very similar to that seen in brain cells in newborn animals. That is, the new adult brain cells showed a “critical period” in which they were highly plastic before they settled into the less plastic properties of mature brain cells. In newborn animals, such a critical period enables an important, early burst of wiring of new brain circuitry with experience.”
  • “The researchers also observed in the new adult neurons anatomical evidence of the same kind of formation of new connections that take place in the brains of newborns as they wire new pathways in response to experience.”
  • “They concluded that “adult neurogenesis may represent not merely a replacement mechanism for lost neurons, but instead an ongoing developmental process that continuously rejuvenates the mature nervous system by offering expanded capacity of plasticity in response to experience throughout life.”

In short: not only do we know today that the adult brain is capable of creating new neurons, but this shows that our experience influences what happens to those neurons once created. Pretty revolutionary understanding, that still needs to permeate through society and influence our lifestyles and habits.

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