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Search for Knowledge Stimulates Brain Health

Cutting-edge research by University of California-Irvine neurobiologists provides the first visual evidence that learning promotes brain health.

Scientists are excited because the finding suggests mental stimulation could limit the debilitating effects of aging on memory and the mind.

Using a novel visualization technique, a research team led by Lulu Chen and Christine Gall found that everyday forms of learning stimulate neuron receptors that help keep brain cells functioning at optimum levels.

These receptors are activated by a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which facilitates the growth and differentiation of the connections, or synapses, responsible for communication among neurons. BDNF is key in the formation of memories.

“The findings confirm a critical relationship between learning and brain growth and point to ways we can amplify that relationship through possible future treatments,” says Chen, a graduate researcher in anatomy & neurobiology.

In addition to discovering that brain activity sets off BDNF signaling at the sites where neurons develop synapses, researchers determined that this process is linked to learning-related brain rhythms, called theta rhythms, vital to the encoding of new memories.

Theta rhythms occurring in the hippocampus involve numerous neurons firing synchronously at a rate of three to eight times per second. These rhythms have been associated with long-term potentiation, a cellular mechanism underlying learning and memory.

In rodent studies, the team found that both unsupervised learning and artificial application of theta rhythms triggered BDNF signaling at synapse creation sites.

“This relationship has implications for maintaining good brain health,” says Gall, a professor of anatomy & neurobiology.

“There is evidence that theta rhythms weaken as we age, and our discoveries suggest that this can result in memory impairment. On the other hand, they suggest that staying mentally active as we age can keep neuronal BDNF signaling at a constant rate, which may limit memory and cognitive decline.”

Researchers are now exploring whether learning-induced growth signals decrease with age and, if so, whether this can be reversed with a new family of experimental drugs.

Study results appear in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for the week of March 1.

Source: University of California – Irvine

Search for Knowledge Stimulates Brain Health

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2016). Search for Knowledge Stimulates Brain Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 12, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/03/03/search-for-knowledge-stimulates-brain-health/11828.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 5 Jul 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Jul 2016
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.