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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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