"Interestingly, previous studies had shown that these prefrontal cortex regions also light up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, suggesting that similar compensatory circuits develop in people," Vissel said. "While it's probable that the brains of Alzheimer's sufferers are already compensating for damage, this discovery has significant potential for extending that compensation and improving the lives of many."
The hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped structure where memories are formed in the brain, plays critical roles in processing, storing and recalling information. The hippocampus is highly susceptible to damage through stroke or lack of oxygen and is critically inolved in Alzheimer's disease, Fanselow said.
"Until now, we've been trying to figure out how to stimulate repair within the hippocampus," he said. "Now we can see other structures stepping in and whole new brain circuits coming into being."
Zelikowsky said she found it interesting that sub-regions in the prefrontal cortex compensated in different ways, with one sub-region the infralimbic cortex silencing its activity and another sub-region the prelimbic cortex increasing its activity.
"If we're going to harness this kind of plasticity to help stroke victims or people with Alzheimer's," she said, "we first have to understand exactly how to differentially enhance and silence function, either behaviorally or pharmacologically. It's clearly important not to enhance all areas. The brain works by silencing and activating different populations of neurons. To form memories, you have to filter out what's important and what's not."
Complex behavior always involves multiple parts of the brain communicating with one another, with one region's message affecting how another region will respond, Fanselow noted. These molecular changes produce our memories, feelings and actions.
"The brain is heavily interconnected you can get from any neuron
|Contact: Stuart Wolpert|
University of California - Los Angeles