Sociability may depend upon brain cells generated in adolescence

Mice become profoundly anti-social when the creation of new brain cells is interrupted in adolescence, a surprising finding that may help researchers understand schizophrenia and other mental disorders, Yale researchers report.

When the same process is interrupted in adults, no such behavioral changes were noted, according to research published in the Oct. 4 issue of the journal Neuroscience.

"This has important implications in understanding social development at the molecular level," said Arie Kaffman, assistant professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
The social behavior of mice seems to be dictated by creation of new neurons in adolescence. In this video, the subject mouse in white has had normal creation of neurons in adolescence and interacts normally with control (marked with black dot). This white mouse has had neurogenesis blocked in adolescence and actively avoids control mouse. Credit: Courtesy of Yale University

Scientists have known for quite some time that new are continually generated in specific after birth. This process, called neurogenesis, occurs at a significantly greater rate during childhood and adolescence than in adulthood, yet most research has focused upon the function of these neurons in older brains.

The Yale team decided to explore the function of these new brain cells in mice of different ages. Normal tend to spend a lot of time exploring and interacting with unfamiliar mice. However, adult mice that had neurogenesis blocked during adolescence showed no interest in exploring other adult mice and even evaded attempts made by other mice to engage in social behavior.

"These mice acted like they did not recognize other mice as mice," Kaffman said.

Blocking adult neurogenesis had no effect on social behavior, suggesting that brain cells generated during adolescence make a very different contribution to and behavior in adulthood, note the scientists.

Intriguingly, schizophrenics have a deficit in generating new neurons in the hippocampus, one of the where new neurons are created. Given that symptoms of schizophrenia first emerge in adolescence, it is possible that deficits in generating new neurons during adolescence or even in childhood holds new insights into the development of some of the social and cognitive deficits seen in this illness, Kaffman said.

Related Stories

Stem cells are good for the brain

Jul 15, 2008

For some years, scientists have been speculating over why stem cells exist in the brain, as brain regeneration is limited. A German team of neuroscientists believe these stem cells help keep the brain healthy and active.

Nurturing newborn neurons sharpens minds in mice

Apr 03, 2011

Adult mice engineered to have more newborn neurons in their brain memory hub excelled at accurately discriminating between similar experiences – an ability that declines with normal aging and in some ...

Brain structure adapts to environmental change

Jun 13, 2011

Scientists have known for years that neurogenesis takes place throughout adulthood in the hippocampus of the mammalian brain. Now Columbia researchers have found that under stressful conditions, neural stem cells in the adult ...

Recommended for you

New learning mechanism for individual nerve cells

5 hours ago

The traditional view is that learning is based on the strengthening or weakening of the contacts between the nerve cells in the brain. However, this has been challenged by new research findings from Lund University in Sweden. ...

USC memory scientist Richard Thompson dies at 84

21 hours ago

Richard F. Thompson, the University of Southern California neuroscientist whose experiments with rabbits led to breakthrough discoveries on how memories are physically stored in the brain, has died. He was 84.

Modeling shockwaves through the brain

21 hours ago

Since the start of the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 300,000 soldiers have returned to the United States with traumatic brain injury caused by exposure to bomb blasts—and in particular, ...

User comments