Specific gene linked to adult growth of brain cells, learning and memory

June 9, 2014

Learning and memory are regulated by a region of the brain known as the hippocampus. New research from City of Hope has found that stimulating a specific gene could prompt growth – in adults – of new neurons in this critical region, leading to faster learning and better memories.

Understanding the link between this gene and the growth of new neurons – or neurogenesis – is an important step in developing therapies to address impaired learning and memory associated with and aging. The new research was published June 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, which used an animal model, found that over-expressing the gene – a called TLX – resulted in smart, faster learners that retained information better and longer.

"Memory loss is a major health problem, both in diseases like Alzheimer's, but also just associated with aging," said Yanhong Shi, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a neurosciences professor at City of Hope. "In our study, we manipulated the expression of this receptor by introducing an additional copy of the gene – which obviously we cannot do outside the laboratory setting. The next step is to find the drug that can target this same gene."

The discovery creates a new potential strategy for improving cognitive performance in elderly patients and those who have a neurological disease or .

The bulk of the brain's development happens before birth, and there are periods –largely in childhood and – when the brain experiences bursts of new growth. In the past couple of decades, however, scientists have found evidence of neurogenesis in later adulthood – occurring mostly in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory.

The new study is the first to firmly link the TLX gene to a potential for enhancing .

Researchers found that over-expression of the gene was actually associated with a physically larger brain, as well as the ability to learn a task quickly. Furthermore, over-expression of the gene was linked with the ability to remember, over a longer period of time, what had been learned.

Explore further: New learning and memory neurons uncovered

More information: Nuclear receptor TLX stimulates hippocampal neurogenesis and enhances learning and memory in a transgenic mouse model, PNAS: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1406779111

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Action recognition without mirror neurons

April 29, 2016

When someone stands opposite us and purposefully raises their arm to make some kind of movement, our brain asks itself whether they intend to attack us or, perhaps, simply greet us. Scientists from the Department of Human ...

Subtle chemical changes in brain can alter sleep-wake cycle

April 28, 2016

A study out today in the journal Science sheds new light on the biological mechanisms that control the sleep-wake cycle. Specifically, it shows that a simple shift in the balance of chemicals found in the fluid that bathes ...

Turn left! How myosin-Va helps direct neuron growth

April 28, 2016

Researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan have discovered a protein complex that helps direct the growth of axons—the parts of neurons that make up our nerves, connecting our senses and muscles to the brain ...

0 comments

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.