It turns out that an apple a day — or at least an apple spinach salad — does keep the doctor away. But it’s not true that when brain cells die we can’t make more. When and how remain active questions, however, so there’s no free pass to collectively disregard our mothers’ safety tips just yet.
Researchers at Duke University have shed some light on the subject with findings that suggest that down the line doctors may be able spur the brain to repair itself.
The subventricular zone, a structure within the fluid-filled lateral ventricles, was one area scientists knew could generate new neurons from neural stem cells. They had also conjectured that the brain can somehow place orders for more cells.
The Duke researchers, led by Chay Kuo, found neurons in the subventricular zone of mice that had not previously been identified. These neurons are one mechanism for creating new cells, the researchers lay out in a recent paper in Nature Neuroscience. Amplifying and dampening the neurons’ activities using laser-based optogenetic tools first discovered in 2010, Kuo and his colleagues saw corresponding changes in how many neural stem cells were on hand in the brain.
“Kuo’s team was able to control CHaT’s action pretty much like a dimmer switch, and the stem cell production of neurons rose and fell in concert with what they were doing.
This is the first piece of a new circuit that’s never been seen,” Karl Lief Bates, Duke’s director of research communications, said in an email.
The findings boost hopes that the brain may be able to repair itself from within.