Jefferson Scientists Find Link Between Learning And Preventing Alzheimer's

er's and other diseases resulting in brain degeneration."

Rats housed in an enriched learning environment had running wheels, tunnels, rubber balls, a maze and a bar-pressing food station. They could choose their food and treats, such as corn chips. Rats living in standard conditions had no toys and only one food and water source.

Other scientists have shown in recent years that brain cell growth and replacement can occur throughout development and aging in animals and humans, while brain cell death occurs. According to Dr. During, his team's work provides the first compelling evidence that a stimulating environment along with early and continued learning not only protects the brain from disease but increases its capacity to repair and regrow damaged cells. "We've shown that a learning environment can encourage cell growth and also reduce cell death as well by about 45 percent. That includes both aging, old cells and young cells that spontaneously die."

The scientists also gave both sets of rats a neurotoxin, kainic acid. The brains of rats in the enriched surroundings were almost completely protected. "This is a rather dramatic finding," he notes.

Dr. During and his co-workers hope to better understand the mechanism, the specific environmental components and specific interventions most effective in protecting the brain. "We're asking if these genes we've shown to be active are actually switched on by the environment. What specific genes and chemicals are involved, and can we use these to actually improve the protection of the brain and treatment of diseases?"

Some of these chemicals are growth factors, such as GDNF, or glial cell derived neurotrophic factor, and BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and transcription factors, such as CREB.


Contact: Steve Benowitz
Thomas Jefferson University

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