“Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain.”
The above quote was written by Ramon y Cajal more than 100 years ago, but only recently has it been proven true.
In 1998, it was discovered that the hippocampus can generate new neurons throughout a lifespan, not just during neurodevelopment. Furthermore, for better or for worse, experience-dependent changes in neurogenesis are associated with fine-tuning hippocampal function, mainly memory.
Stress negatively impacts on neurogenesis, but environmental enrichment does the opposite. Scientists in the Paxinos group are investigating what novel experiences may facilitate neurogenesis.
Laboratory mice were treated to highly enriched environments, including spacious housing, varied textures and bedding, exposures to toys and physical exercises, and challenges to balance and memory, such as climbing structures, seesaws, and tunnel mazes. Not least, mice are given pleasant aromas.
The cells involved in neurogenesis were labeled and the numbers and types of cells were compared to those of mice that didn’t have enrichment. An encouraging trend was found for enrichment to increase the number of hippocampal neurons.
The next step is to understand the neural circuitry underlying this change. This project will help in understanding not just how to sculpt brain regions, but how to reform those affected by age-related neurodegeneration.