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Neurogenesis as the Basis of Brain Plasticity
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Montessori School for Stem Cells

“Stem cell research is the key to developing cures for degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease from which I and many others suffer.” – Stephen Hawking

When Greek philosopher Aristotle observed that “the brain is like a muscle,” 2350 years ago, he wasn’t able to see the trillions of microscopic additions and deletions of dendritic spines that come and go in response to everyday experience. Aristotle may not have known brain exercises like Lumosity, but he understood that mental challenge and effort built new and stronger brain connections.

Lately, research has shown that the more the mind applies itself – by electrophysiologically facilitating or potentiating pathways – the more that the learning and memory area of the brain, the hippocampus, generates new brain stem cells. Not only mental effort but physical exercise too, increases the rate of stem cell production in the hippocampus. Newborn stem cells then migrate from their nursery in the hippocampus to implant themselves within those neuronal pathways that have been facilitated (lowering the threshold of impulse firing) or potentiated (strengthening of synapses). The mental mind generates increased electrical activity that then causes the physical brain to expand or contract its dendritic connections.

Research in 2008 showed that stem cells in the hippocampus survive better and flourish in correlation to increased mental effort. And, when greater numbers of stem cells mature, they produce higher levels of serotonin, that then lead to positive moods and joyful emotions. In rats, 5,000 to 10,000 new hippocampal stem cells are created every day! If stem cells that are grown outside the brain are transplanted into a rat with a destroyed hippocampal connection to the septum, the transplanted stem cells will migrate to the damaged area, grow, restore those connections, and restore memory function, too.

As mental effort and challenge add to the number and dimension of dendritic spines, so too, effort and challenge increase the overall dimensions of the cerebral cortex. Conversely, the neo cortexes of rats raised in “environmentally-deprived” cages show dramatically reduced gross anatomy, compared to rats raised in “environmentally-enriched” cages.

The popular drug Prozac exerts psychological impact by both increasing the production and speeding up the maturity of brain stem cells. After 4-6 weeks on Prozac, increased numbers of stem cells have migrated to serotonin pathways where they mature more rapidly and boost levels of serotonin. Depressed patients taking Prozac then report “improvement in their prospects.” Boosting neurogenesis boosts attitude; the brain’s regeneration of stem cells has determined the mind’s “improvement in prospects.”

Categories:   Biofeeback, Brain Diseases, Brain Health, Brain Performance, Brain Plasticity, Dementia, Epigenetic, Epigenetics

Published by

Burt Glenn

Burt Glenn

Burton Glenn is a former Biology and Chemistry Professor and world traveler. He studies and writes about the effects of aging on the body and mind, as well as his personal experiences transitioning into retirement.