Think again, new neurons may develop in adult brains

Timothy Fagan, Contributing Writer

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The debate on the brain’s ability to complete neurogenesis, the production of new nerve cells, in adult brains has been ongoing for decades with new reports coming in just last year.

A 2018 report, from the University of California San Francisco team led by Shawn Sorrels, concluded that the brain’s ability to produce nerve cells ends at childhood and does not return. That same year, researchers in the Boldrini group at Columbia University proclaimed that forming new nerve cells in the human brain is a process that continues well into adulthood.

This debate is ongoing because detecting neurogenesis is not an easy feat. Even when done correctly, it is difficult to refute a known process without seeing it in action.

To detect neurogenesis, the researchers slice open the brains of formerly healthy adults and view the dentate gyrus, part of the brain suspected to be a neurogenesis hot bed, under a microscope.

One of the suspected differences between finding and not finding the neurons is how quick the brain is studied post mortem and how long the brain soaks in preserving tissue.

Generally, a day or so must pass for the brain to be properly studied. However, the researchers who waited longer to examine the brain typically did not detect neurogenesis.

In addition to lapse of times, dealing with a brain post mortem is always difficult to handle due to its fragility.

Not finding any evidence of neurons has many neuroscientists such as Shawn Sorrells and Mercedes Paredes, agreeing that new methodology is needed and that this debate will help further the field to better understand the brain.

These techniques range from a new technology to scan the brains of living patients, to the ability to synthesize a lab-grown brain. Both would allow researchers to clearly study the brain in an unprecedented fashion.

Better understanding neurogenesis may lead to enhanced treatments for dieases like Alzheimers and dementia. It is hopeful that continuing this debate will bring great positive change to both science and medicine.