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Nurturing newborn neurons sharpens minds in mice
Date:4/3/2011

lped to explain the delay in symptom improvement experienced by patients. Evidence has also emerged that environmental enrichment and exercise can also stimulate neurogenesis and produce antidepressant-like effects. Yet the exact contributions of increased adult neurogenesis remained elusive.

To identify them, the researchers used genetic engineering to create mice lacking a gene that normally kills off 50-80 percent of newborn neurons in the adult hippocampus. These mice with a relative surplus of adult-born neurons were champs at learning to discriminate between a chamber where they had previously received a foot shock and a similar-looking chamber that was safe. By contrast, mice in which adult hippocampal neurogenesis was blocked performed poorly at this fear discrimination learning task, often freezing in safe chambers.

Yet, the mice with genetically enhanced adult neurogenesis did not show improved anti-anxiety or antidepressant-like behaviors, such as increased exploration in anxiety-producing situations. Such behaviors emerged in these mice only after four weeks of wheel running exercise, suggesting that neurogenesis might need to be accompanied by some kind of environmental enhancement to produce such effects.

Hen and Sahay said they are now using neuronal growth factors in combination with enhanced neurogenesis to explore possible mechanisms underlying such anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. They are also weighing emerging evidence that neurogenesis in the bottom part of the hippocampus influences mood and anxiety-related behaviors, while neurogenesis in the top part of the mouse brain structure may have more to do with thinking and memory.


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Contact: Jules Asher
NIMHpress@nih.gov
301-443-4536
NIH/National Institute of Mental Health
Source:Eurekalert  

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