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The aging brain is more malleable than previously believed
Date:8/1/2012

There is growing evidence that, beyond what was previously believed, the adult human brain is remarkably malleable and capable of new feats -- even in the last decades of life.

In fact, new experiences can trigger major physical changes in the brain within just a few days, and certain conditions can accelerate this physical, chemical and functional remodeling of the brain.

"We used to think that the brain was completely formed by development and its basic structure didn't change much in adults, but as research went on we discovered that wasn't true, at least in the cerebral cortex," explains Randy Bruno, a member of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University. "We now know that an underlying portion of the brain called the thalamus, which feeds the cortex information from our senses, is also remarkably plastic."

Change can also happen quickly. Using new research techniques on rats, Bruno's lab has found that the neuronal connections bridging the thalamus to the cortex are not only massively plastic, but they grow and retract rather rapidly in only a few days in response to different sensations. "The rapidity of this growth is really strikingit happens within just three days, which is something nobody in the past thought was possible. Those kinds of rapid physical changes also probably occur in other parts of the brain as well."

In fact, certain conditions accelerate this physical, chemical and functional remodeling of the brain. Said Michael Merzenich, Emeritus Professor at the Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences at the University of California at San Francisco, and Director and founder of the Brain Plasticity Institute, "In our experiments in adult rats, changes only occurred when the animal was attentive within a rewarded learning environment. When we train the animals to improve their behavioral capabilities under near-optimal contextual conditions, we can drive easily recordable functional an
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Contact: James Cohen
cohen@kavlifoundation.org
The Kavli Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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