NEW YORK (April 3, 2011) Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have developed a new way to stimulate neuron production in the adult mouse brain, demonstrating that neurons acquired in the brain's hippocampus during adulthood improve certain cognitive functions.
In recent years, scientists have been exploring whether stimulating neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons) in the adult brain has a beneficial effect on cognition or mood. Until now, studies have relied on interventions, such as exercise and enriched environments, that affect numerous other processes in the brain in addition to increasing adult hippocampal neurogenesis.
The research, led by Ren Hen, PhD, professor of Neuroscience and Pharmacology, in the Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, appears in the Advance Online Publication of the journal Nature. Amar Sahay, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow, is the lead author on the study.
After boosting the number of neurons in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in memory and mood, the researchers tested the mice in both learning and mood-related tasks and looked for changes in behavior. The researchers found specific effects on learning tasks that involve a process called pattern separation, which is the ability to distinguish between similar places, events and experiences.
"This process is crucial for learning because it enables us to know whether something is familiar or novel," said Dr. Hen. "If it is familiar, you move on to the next bit of information; if it's novel, you want to be able to recognize that it's new and give it meaning. These mice, with just more adult-born neurons, and no other changes in the brain, basically learn better in tasks where they have to discriminate between similar contexts."
Earlier strategies for manipulating neurogenesis, according to the investigators, were broader and less s
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Columbia University Medical Center