Researchers from Rutgers University say that brain cells may survive longer in brains that were subjected to early learning. The study found out that newborn brain cells survived in young mice that learned and mastered a certain task while the same brain cells in mice that did not learn the same task died quickly. The findings were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
Scientists have long known in previous studies that the neurons in adult mice could be saved with learning. But they were not sure if the same thing can be done with young mice that produce two to four times as many neurons as adult mice. In order to do this, the researchers examined the hippocampus- the part of the brain associated with learning- in mice. The researchers injected the brain cells with dye to determine the number of brain cells. The mice were then made to learn a task, which involved associating a sound with a motor response. After a few weeks, the researchers then looked again examined the hippocampus to see the changes.
The researchers noted that the dyed brain cells were still alive in mice that learned and mastered the tasks. Tracey Shors, a behavioral and systems neuroscientist at Rutgers and co-author of the study said, “In those that didn’t learn, three weeks after the new brain cells were made, nearly one-half of them were no longer there. But in those that learned, it was hard to count. There were so many that were still alive.”
While it may be more difficult trying to measure the individual brain cells in humans, this mice study on a cellular level provides scientists with a view of what is more or less happening in the adolescent brain. Since the process of producing brain cells is similar in humans and animals, the study suggests that ensuring that kids learn at optimal levels while still young is very important.
“It’s not that learning makes more cells,” Shors added. “It’s that the process of learning keeps new cells alive that are already present at the time of the learning experience.” Shors is also a professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University.
Source: Rutgers University. (2014, May 27). Learning early in life may help keep brain cells alive: Brain cells survive in young who master a task. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140527154750.htm