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Cell death promotes learning growth

Background. The hippocampal formation has long been associated with the execution of higher-order cognitive functions, and impairment of this structure following severe stress and aging has been linked to cognitive disturbances. In order to understand the involvement of the hippocampal formation in the mediation of normal and pathological behaviors, much attention has recently been devoted to hippocampal neurogenesis. The dentate gyrus of the hippocampal formation has the ability to generate new neurons throughout the entire life. Surviving de novo produced cells develop into granule neurons and integrate into the functional circuitry. Neurogenesis has been proposed to play a role in hippocampal-mediated learning and has been implicated in the appearance of behavioral pathologies associated with the hippocampal formation.

Aim of the work. Although evidence suggest that neurogenesis play a role in spatial learning, the effect of learning on cell proliferation remains unclear. The authors generated and tested the hypothesis that different phases of spatial learning measured in the Morris water maze have distinct actions on cell proliferation. In this task, two phases of learning can be distinguished: an early phase during which performance improves rapidly, and a late phase during which asymptotic levels of performance are reached. These two phases seem to involve different brain processes and consequently may differentially influence neurogenesis.

Results. The authors demonstrated that the late phase of learning has a multifaceted effect on neurogenesis depending on the birth date of new neurons. The number of newly born cells increased contingently with the late phase and a large proportion of these cells survived for at least 4 weeks and differentiated into neurons. In contrast, the late phase learning decreased the number of newly born cells produced during the early phase. This learning-induced decrease in the number of newly
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Contact: Aimee Midei
molecularpsychiatry@mednet.ucla.edu
310-206-6739
Molecular Psychiatry
26-Nov-2003


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