Thursday, June 14, 2007

New cells in the brain require new experiences to live...

Leuner et al offer a nice review PDF here) of work by Tashiro et al. showing that survival of the thousands of new nerve cells that are born in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus each day is enhanced if mice are exposed to new experiences during a critical window of time. Here is Tashiro et al.'s abstract, followed by a summary diagram from the Leuner review.
Neural circuits in the dentate gyrus are continuously modified by adult neurogenesis, whose level is affected by the animal's experience. However, it is not known whether this experience-dependent anatomical modification alters the functional properties of the dentate gyrus. Here, using the expression of immediate early gene products, c-fos and Zif268, as indicators of recently activated neurons, we show that previous exposure to an enriched environment increases the total number of new neurons and the number of new neurons responding to reexposure to the same environment. The increase in the density of activated new neurons occurred specifically in response to exposure to the same environment but not to a different experience. Furthermore, we found that these experience-specific modifications are affected exclusively by previous exposure around the second week after neuronal birth but not later than 3 weeks. Thus, the animal's experience within a critical period during an immature stage of new neurons determines the survival and population response of the new neurons and may affect later neural representation of the experience in the dentate gyrus. This experience-specific functional modification through adult neurogenesis could be a mechanism by which new neurons exert a long-term influence on the function of the dentate gyrus related to learning and memory.

Here is a summary figure of the results (NeuN+ is a marker for nerve cells; BrdU is a marker for new neurons; Zif268 is a marker for increased neural activation.
Figure legend: Simplified schematic diagram of the results presented by Tashiro et al. (2007). Exposure to environmental enrichment during a critical period (1–3 weeks after BrdU administration; bottom) increased the survival of new neurons in the dentate gyrus (BrdU+/NeuN+). In contrast, new neuron survival was not enhanced in mice exposed to an enriched environment after the critical period (top). The authors also demonstrated that reexposure to the same experience of environmental enrichment at a later time enhanced neuronal activation (BrdU+/NeuN+/Zif268+; bottom). Increased neuronal activation did not occur when mice were only given the initial exposure or were reexposed to a different experience of water maze training.

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