New Discovery Could Rejuvenate the Brain

December 18, 2008

( -- Researchers at The University of British Columbia have discovered why the brain loses its capacity to re-grow connections and repair itself, knowledge that could lead to therapeutics that “rejuvenate” the brain.

The study, published today in The EMBO Journal, identified a set of proteins -- calpain and cortactin, which regulate and control the sprouting of neurons -- a mechanism known as neural plasticity.

Neurons, or nerve cells, process and transmit information by electrochemical signalling and are the core components of the brain and spinal cord. During development, growing neurons are relatively plastic and can sprout new connections, however their plasticity levels drop rapidly as they mature and become integrated into neuronal networks.

This process is the mechanism by which the brain regulates these networks from uncontrolled growth, however; as a consequence, the central nervous system is unable to reorganize itself in response to injury or disease.

“This discovery is exciting because we now know that neurons haven’t lost their capacity to re-grow connections, but instead are under constant repression by the protein calpain,” says Ana Mingorance-Le Meur, postdoctoral fellow in UBC’s Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, who has led the investigation along with UBC Professor Timothy O’Connor. “If we can target therapies that block this mechanism, then neurons should be able to sprout new connections, therefore stimulating the brain’s ability to repair its wiring network.”

The research reveals that the loss of plasticity is due to the protein calpain actively blocking the protein cortactin, which is responsible for the sprouting of new connections. The researchers reduced calpain activity in animal models to unlock the sprouting potential of neurons and found that when calpain activity is reduced neural plasticity is enhanced.

“The maintenance of neuronal connections is an active process that requires constant repression of the formation of nerve sprouts by the protein calpain to avoid uncontrolled growth,” says Mingorance-Le Meur, who is also a member of the Brain Research Centre at UBC and VCH Research Institute. “But a consequence of this role is that calpain limits neural plasticity and the brain’s ability to repair itself. The next step is to find a way to enhance neural plasticity without interfering with the good connections that are already in place. The next step is to find a way to enhance neural plasticity without interfering with the good connections that are already in place.”

According to Mingorance-Le Meur, who is also a member of International Collaboration on Repair and Discovery (ICORD), the results are very promising because they help us understand how neural plasticity is regulated. Drugs that could promote neural plasticity could potentially treat a wide range of neurological disorders, as well as boost the effects of other treatments under investigation.

Provided by University of British Columbia

Explore further: Discovery of mechanism that alters neural excitability offers window into neuropsychiatric disease

Related Stories

Adverse effects of cannabis scientifically verified

September 12, 2016

Researchers have clarified important mechanisms involved in the formation of neural circuits in the brain. This group also discovered that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive substance also found in cannabis, ...

How brain separates relevant and irrelevant information

September 20, 2016

Imagine yourself sitting in a noisy café trying to read. To focus on the book at hand, you need to ignore the surrounding chatter and clattering of cups, with your brain filtering out the irrelevant stimuli coming through ...

As simple as random can be

September 19, 2016

A few weeks ago I was having a discussion about mathematical models for the prediction of the movements of the stock market. The question was whether there was any use to developing complex algorithms trying to predict these ...

Recommended for you

Natural compound reduces signs of aging in healthy mice

October 27, 2016

Much of human health hinges on how well the body manufactures and uses energy. For reasons that remain unclear, cells' ability to produce energy declines with age, prompting scientists to suspect that the steady loss of efficiency ...

A metabolic switch to turn off obesity

October 27, 2016

You've tried all the diets. No matter: you've still regained the weight you lost, even though you ate well and you exercised regularly! This may be due to a particular enzyme in the brain: the alpha/beta hydrolase domain-6 ...

Scientists develop 'world-first' 3-D mammary gland model

October 27, 2016

A team of researchers from Cardiff University and Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute has succeeded in creating a three-dimensional mammary gland model that will pave the way for a better understanding of the mechanisms ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2008
Anyone else unable to rate the article (or any others)? Probably something to do with the redesign?
5 / 5 (1) Dec 19, 2008
Looks like they fixed it. :-)
5 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2008
The Origin of Consciousness.
Descartes said: "I think , therefore I am"
Buddhist monk says "I think not, therefore I am"
Consciousness is real but nonphyslcal.
Consciousness is connected to physical reality .
There are many theories explaining the origin of consciousness.
Here some of them.
"God" "blowing" "consciousness" "into man"
"whom he created from clay"
20 billions years ago all matter (all elementary particles,
all quarks and their girlfriend antiquarks, all kinds of waves:
electromagnetic, gravitational, muons%u2026.) %u2013
all was assembled in %u201Csingular point%u201D.
Then there was a Big Bang .
Question: when was there consciousness?
a) Before explosion,
b) At the moment of explosion,
c) After the explosion.
It is more probable, that it existed after the explosion.
Then there is a question: what particles (or waves)
were carriers of consciousness?
Mesons, muons, leptons, bosons (W , W- , Z) ,
quarks, %u2026gluons field %u2026.. ets %u2026?
On this question the Big Bang theory does not give an answer.
But can it be that consciousness was formed as a result
of the interaction of all elementary particles, all waves, all fields?
Then, on the one hand, the reason for the origin of the Big Bang is clear:
everything was mixed, including consciousness, and when it is mixed
then it is possible to construct all and everything.
But on the other hand, it is not clear:
why farmer John can think simply, clearly and logically.
3) Ancient Indian Veda approve, that origination of consciousness
is connected with the existence of spiritual, conscious particles %u2013 purusha .
4) Modern physics affirms that the Quantum of light
is a privileged particle as in one cases,
it behave as a particle, and in other case, acts in a way which causes a wave.
How is a particle capable of creating a wave?
The behaviour of Light quanta (dualism ) is explained simply.
A quantum of light has its own initial consciousness.
This consciousness is not rigid, but develops.
The development of consciousness goes
%u201Cfrom vague wish up to a clear thought%u201D.
Consciousness is connected to physical reality.
It is fact that consciousness is itself already dualistic.
This dualism stays on the basis of Quantum Physics.
Therefore %u201CQuantum Theory of Consciousness%u201D
can be understand only with connection to the
%u201CTheory of Light Quanta%u201D.
Best wishes.
Israel Sadovnik. / Socratus.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.