Everyday forms of learning help keep brain cells functioning at optimum levels thus also limiting the effects of age-related cognitive and memory decline, a recent study has found.
Using a novel visualization technique a research team led by Lulu Chen and Christine Gall found that everyday forms of learning animate neuron receptors 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.
Study results appear in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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.
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.