Regenerating Brains Despite Age

Written by Suzanne Leigh

Like a botox treatment to make us look younger, we may be able to rejuvenate our brains. Scientists at Princeton have discovered that the brain may be able to regenerate itself.

Scientists have thrown the book at yet another theory about aging. Contrary to the prevailing consensus that adults never generate brain cells, psychologists have discovered that such cells appear to be in constant turnover.


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For nearly 100 years scientists have believed new cells could not grow in adult brains.
Now a study on adult monkeys has demonstrated that brain cells are continually added to the area of the brain responsible for highest decision making.
The finding may open the door to treatments for a host of degenerative brain diseases.
The findings at Princeton University suggest that the brain's natural regeneration system could be led to replace the diseased or damaged cells associated with Alzheimer's disease, stroke-related dementia and Parkinson's disease.


Working exclusively with the area of the brain responsible for high-level decision making, psychologists Elizabeth Gould and Charles Gross injected the cerebral cortex of adult monkeys with a chemical that binds with the DNA of developing brain cells. (Gould and Gross chose monkeys because they are believed to be predictive of what happens in humans.)


Checking the monkeys several weeks later, the psychologists were able to identify their DNA-binder in cells of the cerebral cortex, concluding that these cells had to have been formed after the injection of the chemical.


Gould and Gross then injected the monkeys with a chemical tracer that flowed along the nerve cells. Close examination of the path left by the chemical tracer revealed that the new nerve cells had developed axons, the structures of nerve cells through which impulses travel, and that these axons had linked the new nerve cells with established brain networks.


The investigators further discovered that these newly developed brain cells had traveled to three other areas of the brain within the cerebral cortex. This type of migration, believed to have been observed for the first time, may prove useful in guiding therapeutic cells to sites of the brain that have lost nerve cells to injury or disease.


"It shows there are natural mechanisms in the brain that, someday, might be harnessed for therapeutic purposes to replenish damaged areas of the brain," Gould said.


Commenting on the study, William Greenough, director of neuroscience at the University of Illinois' Beckman Institute at Urbana, said the research revealed an "absolutely novel result."


"These data scream for a re-analysis of human brain development," he said.


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