An intriguing new brain fitness study published by researchers from the University of Texas shows that brain injury stimulates neurogenesis (new brain cell growth) and that the new brain cells aid in recovering learning and memory functions, thereby restoring brain fitness.
The brain then, it turns out, has mechanisms for self-repair.
Since the late 1990s scientists have known that the adult human brain generates new brain cells. Many have suspected that neurogenesis is good for the brain. The new research used mice to investigate the growth and function of newborn neurons in the hippocampus — an important learning and memory center. “It’s clear they are doing something, and that that something aids recovery,” says Jack Parent, a brain fitness expert at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
The Texas team genetically labeled newborn brain cells in the hippocampi, showing that brain injury stimulated an increase in neurogenesis. However, when they blocked neurogenesis at the time of injury it hampered the mice’s ability to learn a water maze. The new cells aided in recovery of brain fitness, in particular learning and memory functions.
“This suggests that if you get in the way of neurogenesis in a big way, it’s not good,” says Patrick Kochanek, an intensive care physician and brain injury expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. This raises the question of whether some typical treatments for brain injury, such as sedation, might reduce neurogenesis and hamper recovery, he says.
Parent’s research indicates that some newborn brain cells wire into the wrong places and can increase the risk of seizures. “You need more neurons, but you need them in the right place,” he says.