BIOTECH: Memories Are Made of This -- New Brain Cells

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Wed Mar 14 2001 - 13:16:36 MST

Fresh off Reuters news, new brain cells quickly pick up an active role in
memory function. More cause for optimism about brain repair and enhancement.

- Jef

Wednesday March 14 2:25 PM ET
Memories Are Made of This -- New Brain Cells
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - In a finding that could be good news for stroke sufferers
and people with brain diseases, scientists said Wednesday that the brains of
animals and humans can produce new cells that can help to form memories.
Researchers had been skeptical about the brain's ability to grow new cells.
But behavioral neuroscientists at Rutgers and Princeton universities in New
Jersey have shown not only that the brains of rats produce new cells, but
also what they do.
``It appears that the new neurons become involved in memory about a week to
two weeks after they are generated, and they are involved in memories
normally handled by the hippocampus (an area of the brain),'' said Professor
Tracey Shors of Rutgers.
She and her colleague Elizabeth Gould, of Princeton University, believe
their research suggests that the brain's recuperative powers may have been
underestimated and could be far greater than scientists had previously
``I think the idea that the brain continues to make new neurons and that
those neurons serve an important function gives us hopes that we can restore
function in people who have neurone loss,'' Shors said in a telephone
``On another level it may give ideas about trying to enhance the
self-renewing capacity of the brain.''
Jeffery Macklis, of Harvard Medical School (news - web sites) in
Massachusetts, went one step further, suggesting that the research could
have implications for the treatment of brain injuries or diseases.
``The results also support the idea that it might, one day, be possible to
add new, fully functional neurons into existing brain circuitry to treat
diseases of the nervous system,'' he said in a commentary on the research.
Shors and Gould found that in rats the newly generated neurons were
essential for 'trace memory', in which animals learn to associate stimuli
that are separated in time.
Shors and Gould gave male rats a drug that stopped the proliferation of new
cells for several weeks and then tested them with various learning tasks.
``They couldn't learn the trace conditioning tasks which require the
association of stimuli over time, but they could learn other tasks,'' Shors
The researchers are trying to identify exactly what role the cells play in
memory, and how sex differences influence memory and the generation of new

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