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Growing brain is particularly flexible

Science has long puzzled over why a baby's brain is particularly flexible and why it easily changes. Is it because babies have to learn a lot? A group of researchers from the Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience, the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Gttingen, the Schiller University in Jena and Princeton University (USA) have now put forward a new explanation: Maybe it is because the brain still has to grow. Using a combination of experiments, mathematical models and computer simulations they showed that neuronal connections in the visual cortex of cats are restructured during the growth phase and that this restructuring can be explained by self-organisational processes. The study was headed by Matthias Kaschube, former researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and now at Princeton University (USA). (PNAS, published online June 21, 2010)

The brain is continuously changing. Neuronal structures are not hard-wired, but are modified with every learning step and every experience. Certain areas of the brain of a newborn baby are particularly flexible, however. In animal experiments, the development of the visual cortex can be strongly influenced in the first months of life, for example, by different visual stimuli.

Nerve cells in the visual cortex of fully-grown animals divide up the processing of information from the eyes: Some "see" only the left eye, others only the right. Cells of right or left specialisation each lie close to one another in small groups, called columns. The researchers showed that during growth, these structures are not simply inflated columns do not become larger but their number increases. Neither do new columns form from new nerve cells. The number of nerve cells remains almost unchanged, a large part of the growth of the visual cortex can be attributed to an increase in the number of non-neuronal cells. These changes can be explained by the fact th

Contact: Wolfgang Keil

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