Academic journal article The Science Teacher

A Healthy Brain

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

A Healthy Brain

Article excerpt

University of California--Irvine neurobiologists are providing the first visual evidence that learning promotes brain health--and, therefore, that mental stimulation could limit the debilitating effects of aging on memory and the mind. Study results appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using a novel visualization technique devised to study memory, a research team led by Lulu Chen and Christine Gall found that everyday learning forms animate 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, that are 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 and 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, which are vital to the encoding of new memories. …

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