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Brain structure adapts to environmental change
Date:6/13/2011

  • Hippocampus adapts to environmental stresses
  • Stockpiles neuronal stem cells under deprived conditions, produces more neurons under favorable conditions
  • Knowledge of how neural stem cells produce neurons could lead to potential treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's

(NEW YORK, NY, June 13, 2011) Scientists have known for years that neurogenesis takes place throughout adulthood in the hippocampus of the mammalian brain. Now Columbia researchers have found that under stressful conditions, neural stem cells in the adult hippocampus can produce not only neurons, but also new stem cells. The brain stockpiles the neural stem cells, which later may produce neurons when conditions become favorable. This response to environmental conditions represents a novel form of brain plasticity. The findings were published online in Neuron on June 9, 2011.

The hippocampus is involved in memory, learning, and emotion. A research team led by Alex Dranovsky, MD, PhD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and research scientist in the Division of Integrative Neuroscience at the New York State Psychiatric Institute/Columbia Psychiatry, compared the generation of neural stem cells and neurons in mice housed in isolation and in mice housed in enriched environments. They then used lineage studies, a technique that traces stem cells from their formation to their eventual differentiation into specific cell types, to see what proportion of neural stem cells produced neurons.

Deprived and enriched environments had opposite effects. The brains of the socially isolated mice accumulated neural stem cells but not neurons. The brains of mice housed in enriched environments produced far more neurons, but not more stem cells. The average mouse dentate gyrus, the area of the hippocampus where neurogenesis takes place, has about 500,000 neurons; the enriched enviro
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Contact: Ann Rae Jonas
arj2116@columbia.edu
212-305-6535
Columbia University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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