Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


A Love affair Across Generations: A Lamarckian Reincarnation?

Eric Jensen alert­ed me to a research study pub­lished in the Feb­ru­ary 4th Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science — Trans­gen­er­a­tional Res­cue of a Genet­ic Defect in Long-Term Poten­ti­a­tion and Mem­o­ry For­ma­tion by Juve­nile Enrich­ment. We both had the same ini­tial WOW! feel­ing that we had expe­ri­enced when we first read about the dis­cov­ery of mir­ror neu­rons a decade+ ago.

The study’s find­ings seemed to sug­gest that acquired char­ac­ter­is­tics can be genet­i­cal­ly trans­mit­ted, a Lamar­ck­i­nan belief that had long been dis­card­ed by biol­o­gists. This seemed improb­a­ble, so we decid­ed to check out what the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty thought. It’s the kind of research that edu­ca­tors cer­tain­ly need to under­stand because the poten­tial edu­ca­tion­al impli­ca­tions are pro­found, no mat­ter how this par­tic­u­lar study sorts out.

I’ve thus append­ed the fol­low­ing infor­ma­tion below: (1) the abstract and ref­er­ence of the orig­i­nal sttudy, (2) a link to a non-tech­ni­cal report in the cur­rent issue of New Sci­en­tist, (3) a link to a non- tech­ni­cal expla­na­tion of the research in Med­ical News Today, and (4) a link to a recent extend­ed non-tech­ni­cal New Sci­en­tist arti­cle on the issue of non-genet­ic inher­i­tance. Eric will post his com­men­tary on the research in the March edi­tion of his Brighter Brain Bul­letin newslet­ter.


To put it sim­ply: The researchers stud­ied long-term poten­ti­a­tion (LTP), in which longer and more robust synap­tic acti­va­tion occurs. LTP is the basic mech­a­nism for learn­ing and mem­o­ry for­ma­tion.

Juve­nile mice placed into an enriched envi­ron­ment (EE) devel­oped enhanced LTP capa­bil­i­ties that they lat­er trans­mit­ted to their own off­spring dur­ing embryo­ge­n­e­sis (rather than through lat­er mater­nal instruc­tion), and these effects per­sist­ed even when the off­spring weren’t in an EE. The study con­clud­ed that a stim­u­lat­ing juve­nile envi­ron­ment can thus influ­ence the com­po­si­tion of sig­nal­ing net­works that influ­ence synap­tic plas­tic­i­ty and mem­o­ry for­ma­tion in the enriched mouse, and also in its future off­spring.

The prob­lem with this research appears to be over whether the trans­mit­ted effects occurred via genet­ic changes or through some­thing else in the moth­er’s uter­ine envi­ron­ment. A female’s eggs devel­op ear­ly in life to be dis­trib­uted lat­er, so it’s improb­a­ble that a female’s juve­nile expe­ri­ences would alter the DNA in her eggs. A more prob­a­ble expla­na­tion may be that any changes in the moth­er’s brain that occur via an EE are rep­re­sent­ed as cur­rent­ly ill- under­stood sig­nal­ing mol­e­cules that pass through the pla­cen­tal bar­ri­er into the embry­on­ic brain.


For edu­ca­tors, this research sim­ply adds to our own strong belief that long-term ben­e­fits accrue from a stim­u­lat­ing ear­ly envi­ron­ment that encour­ages curios­i­ty and explo­ration. The research builds on ear­li­er EE stud­ies by William Gree­nough, Mar­i­an Dia­mond, and oth­ers.

I don’t know how this line of rodent research could be stud­ied in humans, giv­en our more com­plex cul­ture, much longer devel­op­men­tal tra­jec­to­ry, and the eth­i­cal con­straints of such research. But then folks ini­tial­ly thought that it would be almost impos­si­ble to study mir­ror neu­rons in peo­ple, so who knows how sci­en­tists will cre­ative­ly explore this issue.

It’s thus a time for edu­ca­tion­al lead­ers to edu­cate them­selves about the entire emerg­ing issue, rather than to imme­di­ate­ly spec­u­late about class­room appli­ca­tions. We’re liv­ing in such an excit­ing time, with all sorts of long held-beliefs about our brain and cog­ni­tion being re- exam­ined by cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tists, and a sim­i­lar re-think­ing of edu­ca­tion­al poli­cies and pro­ce­dures occur­ring in the polit­i­cal and edu­ca­tion­al are­nas. If I had to begin anew in search of an intel­lec­tu­al­ly stim­u­lat­ing 21st cen­tu­ry career, edu­ca­tion would be my choice in a heart­beat.

And as long as I’m being effu­sive, Hap­py 200th Birth­day Charles Dar­win and Abra­ham Lin­coln. Nice lega­cies, guys!


- Ref­er­ence: Trans­gen­er­a­tional Res­cue of a Genet­ic Defect in Long-Term Poten­ti­a­tion and Mem­o­ry For­ma­tion by Juve­nile Enrich­ment. The Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science, Feb­ru­ary 4, 2009, 29(5):1496–1502 Junko A. Arai,1 * Shaomin Li,1 * Dean M. Hartley,2 and Lar­ry A. Feig

- ABSTRACT: The idea that qual­i­ties acquired from expe­ri­ence can be trans­mit­ted to future off­spring has long been con­sid­ered incom­pat­i­ble with cur­rent under­stand­ing of genet­ics. How­ev­er, the recent doc­u­men­ta­tion of non-Mendelian trans­gen­er­a­tional inher­i­tance makes such a “Lamarckian”-like phe­nom­e­non more plau­si­ble. Here, we demon­strate that expo­sure of 15-d-old mice to 2 weeks of an enriched envi­ron­ment (EE), that includes expo­sure to nov­el objects, ele­vat­ed social inter­ac­tions and vol­un­tary exer­cise, enhances long-term poten­ti­a­tion (LTP) not only in these enriched mice but also in their future off­spring through ear­ly ado­les­cence, even if the off­spring nev­er expe­ri­ence EE. In both gen­er­a­tions, LTP induc­tion is aug­ment­ed by a new­ly appear­ing cAMP/p38 MAP kinase-depen­dent sig­nal­ing cas­cade. The trans­gen­er­a­tional trans­mis­sion of this effect occurs from the enriched moth­er to her off­spring dur­ing embryo­ge­n­e­sis. If a sim­i­lar phe­nom­e­non occurs in humans, the effec­tive­ness of one’s mem­o­ry dur­ing ado­les­cence, par­tic­u­lar­ly in those with defec­tive cell sig­nal­ing mech­a­nisms that con­trol mem­o­ry, can be influ­enced by envi­ron­men­tal stim­u­la­tion expe­ri­enced by one’s moth­er dur­ing her youth.

- Can expe­ri­ences be passed on to off­spring? (New Sci­en­tist)

- What Your Moth­er Did When She Was A Child May Have An Effect On Your Mem­o­ry and Learn­ing Abil­i­ty (Med­ical News)

- Rewrit­ing Dar­win: The New Non-Genet­ic Inher­i­tance (New Sci­en­tist)

Robert Sylwester Learning and the BrainDr. Robert Syl­west­er is an Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of Edu­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon, the author of mul­ti­ple books such as The Ado­les­cent Brain: Reach­ing for Auton­o­my (Cor­win Press, 2007) and many jour­nal arti­cles, and mem­ber of Sharp­Brains Sci­en­tif­ic Advi­so­ry Board. In-depth inter­view with him Here.

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Search in our Archives

Follow us and Engage via…

RSS Feed

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)