Touch Promotes Brain Growth

Wikimedia commons: Aaron Logan

Scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science have discovered that novel and diverse tactile stimulation results in a remarkable boost to the production of new brain cells in young mice.

“We had not expected to have such an amazing effect,” said Ravid Shechter, who helped execute the experiments. “It was a very fast response to the environment.”

As reported today in The New Scientist, neuroimmunologist Michal Schwartz and his team placed mice in cages with a variety of unfamiliar flooring materials, such as small rocks, sandpaper, or sponge, or a combination. Just 2 hours later the team measured a dramatic increase in the number of new cells in the dorsal horn. Mice in cages with mixed flooring materials grew more cells, indicating that a diverse environment amplified the effects of new tactile sensations.

The team went on to test the impact of repeated and prolonged exposure to the new environments. They found no further increase in neurogenesis, and perhaps even a slight decrease, but the new brain cells produced after initial exposure did differentiate and lead to the production of so-called “GABAergic” cells — inhibitors.

Schwartz pointed out that these GABA cells likely played a role in the mice becoming accustomed to the new sensations. Commenting on the findings neuroscientist Pierre-Marie Lledo from the Pasteur Institute noted that the process displayed a remarkable similarity to the production of new brain cells in the region responsible for processing smells in adult mice.

Schwartz’s work may have implications for pain management and treatment, Lledo suggested. The new GABAergic neurons appear where pain fibers terminate in the spinal cord, “more newborn neurons located here will provide more inhibition to these nocioceptive fibers, and therefore will change the threshold of pain.”

Commenting on alternative “touch treatments”, Schwartz said, “In this regard, [our results] may give a scientific basis to unexplained effects of touch treatment.”

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.