an abstract representation of neuronsGood news for adults: some parts of your brain are still childlike. Research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle has found that certain regions of the brain continue to maintain a high level of activity that facilitates brain cell growth and inter-cell connections. These findings suggest that adults can keep learning and store new memories while the brain continues to develop. It may also have applications in the future for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.

The researchers started investigating continued brain cell growth after observing that some parts of the adult brain consumed large quantities of sugar and oxygen. This process of creating energy, known as aerobic glycosis, is commonly observed in children’s brains and in other rapidly-growing cells. The scientists hypothesized that the cells performing glycosis would be the most childlike, that is, they would exhibit the most activity when compared to other regions of the adult brain. Using a database that included information on brain activity in varying sectors, they analyzed the level of activity, comparing it to that of people of different ages.

They were able to identify over 100 genes that were consistently more active in certain brain regions. Greater activity among these genes is connected to energy production in the brain, which allows the brain to build structures like nerve cell branches and to make new connections between cells. Since this set of genes is particularly active among children, the researchers termed this brand of activity “childlike.”

“Even in adults, there are parts of the brain that still are rapidly changing and adapting … The ability to support the metabolic requirements of adult brain cells to create new connections may one day be important for treating brain injuries and neurodegenerative disorders,” concluded Washington University neuroradiology fellow Manu S. Goyal, MD.

This research is published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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