New insight into the brain’s ability to reorganize itself

March 21, 2011

Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School recently showed how the plasticity of the brain allowed mice to restore critical functions related to learning and memory after the scientists suppressed the animals’ ability to make certain new brain cells, says Geoffrey Murphy, Ph.D.

After halting the ongoing growth of key brain cells in adult mice, the researchers found that brain circuitry compensated for the disruption by enabling existing neurons to be more active. The existing neurons also had longer life spans than when new cells were continuously being made.

The researchers demonstrated that the disruption is only temporary. Within six weeks, the mouse brains were able to compensate for the disruption and restore plasticity.

The study could bring scientists one step closer to isolating the mechanisms by which the brain compensates for disruptions and reroutes neural functioning — ultimately leading to treatments for cognitive impairments in humans caused by disease and aging, says Murphy.

Ref.: “Compensatory network changes in the dentate gyrus restore long-term potentiation following ablation of neurogenesis in young-adult mice,” PNAS Online Early Edition, March 14, 2011.