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Eight research teams working with DARPA to discover best ways to activate neuroplasticity and accelerate learning

DARPA Funds Brain-Stim­u­la­tion Research to Speed Learn­ing (DoD news):

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is work­ing with sev­en U.S. uni­ver­si­ties and ele­ments of the Air Force and Army on research that seeks to stim­u­late the brain in a non-inva­sive way to speed up learn­ing.

DARPA announced the Tar­get­ed Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty Train­ing, or TNT, pro­gram Read the rest of this entry »

DARPA launches Targeted Neuroplasticity Training program to accelerate cognitive skills training

--TNT technology will be designed to safely and precisely modulate peripheral nerves to control synaptic plasticity during cognitive skill training.

– TNT tech­nol­o­gy will be designed to safe­ly and pre­cise­ly mod­u­late periph­er­al nerves to con­trol synap­tic plas­tic­i­ty dur­ing cog­ni­tive skill train­ing.

Boost­ing Synap­tic Plas­tic­i­ty to Accel­er­ate Learn­ing (DARPA news):

The body’s branch­ing net­work of periph­er­al nerves con­nects neu­rons in the brain and spinal cord to organs, skin, and mus­cles, reg­u­lat­ing a host of bio­log­i­cal func­tions from diges­tion to sen­sa­tion to loco­mo­tion. But the periph­er­al ner­vous sys­tem can do even more than that…pushing those lim­its fur­ther, DARPA aims to enlist the body’s periph­er­al nerves to achieve some­thing that has long been con­sid­ered the brain’s domain alone: facil­i­tat­ing learn­ing. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

THE STUDY:

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.

THE SIGNIFICANCE:

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 Read the rest of this entry »

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