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Neurons generated in the adult brain learn to respond to novel stimuli

New brain cells that develop in the olfactory system of adult mice appear to play a role in the brain different from that of older neurons. The new olfactory neurons are especially sensitive to novel stimuli, preferentially learning to respond to new odors. This level of flexibility suggests that such newly-generated neurons could be induced to adapt to and integrate into other regions of the brain, perhaps allowing them to replace neurons lost to injury or disease. The report from researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)-Harvard Medical School (HMS) Center for Nervous System Repair (CNSR) appears in the Nov. 16 Journal of Neuroscience.

"Our results show that these new neurons have a lot of plasticity and can contribute to important learning and memory functions of the brain, suggesting that similar, newly recruited neurons may be able to function in other parts of the brain," says Sanjay Magavi, PhD, who led the study as a fellow in the laboratory of Jeffrey Macklis, MD, DHST, director of the MGH-HMS CNSR. "Eventually we'd like to be able to redirect brain cell precursors or stem cells to make other types of neurons in regions of the brain that do not normally regenerate." Magavi is now a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It had long been believed that neurons, the active cells of the brain and nervous system, do not regenerate. Recent research has shown, however, that new cells are added to certain areas of the brain including those involved with memory and the sense of smell well into adulthood. Very recent work, in particular a number of studies from the MGH-HMS CNSR team, shows that neural precursors/stem cells can be induced to form some of the much more complex neurons in the cerebral cortex, the brain's highest-level structure. The current study was designed to investigate whether newly generated olfactory neurons simply replace older neurons or play a distinct role in learning and memory.


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Contact: Sue McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.org
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital
15-Nov-2005


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