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Self-healing brain study offers Alzheimer’s hope

Brains are smart enough to rewire themselves, a new international study of rats has found. The study turns on its head the…

The new study has implications for Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other neurological disorders. http://www.flickr.com/photos/arselectronica

Brains are smart enough to rewire themselves, a new international study of rats has found.

The study turns on its head the common misconception brain damage is irreversible, showing the precise neural pathways that can compensate after damage to memory structures in the brain.

The work has implications for Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other neurological disorders.

The new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), showed specific regions of the prefrontal cortex, which plans cognitive and social behaviour, were able to act as a substitute following damage to the brain’s learning centre – the hippocampus.

The study, which involved researchers from University of Southern California, Los Angeles and the Garvan Institute, showed that rats could learn new things, even after injury to the hippocampus.

Co-author of the study, Bryce Vissel from the Garvan Institute’s Neuroscience research program, said the findings could help scientists better understand Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s really the first anatomical, cellular activity based analysis of the regions of the brain involved in compensation that occurs after the memory centre of the brain is damaged,” he said.

Rewiring and recovery

Winthrop Professor of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology at the University of Western Australia, Alan Harvey, said the study was interesting. He felt it was consistent with existing studies that showed the brain can maintain or add new information as it aged.

Dr Paul Bertrand, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Medical Sciences at RMIT University, said it was “a technically difficult study which showed very elegantly that a particular type of learning can be recovered following brain damage.”

“Importantly, this identification can lead further studies to target these areas in an effort to enhance the process of rewiring and recovery,” said Dr Bertrand, who was not involved in the research. He added that the findings offered hope for sufferers of Alzheimer’s.

“What this means is that there may be ways of helping people recover which might seem counter-intuitive at first.”

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3 Comments sorted by

  1. Terry J Wall
    Terry J Wall is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Still Learning at University of Life

    I suppose it would be silly to suggest that a deficiency of micro nutrients or 80 different trace elements specifically would be of any use in helping the neurons to get their shite together?

    Silly really as they only make up 50 percent of enzymes, of which Neurolink practitioners believe 300,000 different ones are needed. Mind you the other 50 percent of enzymes are constructed from another beastie called saturated fat, and we all know how unimportant these are.

    Comments anyone?

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  2. Lee Emmett

    Guest House Manager

    Sometimes it seems to me that brain degeneration is inevitable if people's lives become more and more restricted. Often, for convenience, people in some aged care facilities have much reduced mobility, and fewer opportunities to 'grow' and take new paths. And sometimes, even when a person with Alzeimers is in their own environment, carers can be overly concerned about risk-taking, so the spiral downwards to immobility occurs. Nothing is worse for the mind than boredom and mindless repetition. We all need stimulus of new people and challenging situations if we are to maintain optium brain functionality throughout life.

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