From curiosity-driven research comes the promise of new treatment avenues. Understanding how new neurons form connections could lead to new anti-depressants or new anti-anxiety medications.
Brain function underlies how we perceive the world and our behaviours. Our brain is a complex structure with over 100 billion neurons, forming networks and transmitting information within milliseconds. This network is constantly changing and remodelling in a process called neuroplasticity.
For years, the dominant theory on the brain’s adaptiveness was that because of its complexity, it would be impossible for neurons in the brain to change. In the 1960s, however, the first clues about the brain’s plasticity began to emerge.
Pioneering work by QBI’s founding director, Emeritus Professor Perry Bartlett, in the 1990s revealed that stem cells reside in the adult mouse brain, and under the right stimuli, these cells divide and form neurons.
More recently, studies of the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for memory, suggest that as many as 700 new neurons are added to this region each day.
Dr Dhanisha Jhaveri, in collaboration with Emeritus Professor Bartlett and Professor Pankaj Sah, discovered that new neurons also form in the amygdala, a brain structure central to emotional processing, and can integrate into existing brain circuits. Intriguingly, they found that chronic stress disrupts this process and leads to anxiety behaviour in mice.
The finding suggests that the formation of new neurons and their correct connectivity is important to healthy brain function. From such curiosity-driven research also comes the promise of new treatment avenues.
Understanding how new neurons form connections could lead to new anti-depressants or new anti-anxiety medications. It could also reveal ways to encourage brain repair after injury or to reduce the effects of neurodegenerative conditions like dementia or Parkinson's disease.