Research shows adult brains capable of rapid new growth

April 5, 2011 by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress report
Brain diagram. Credit: dwp.gov.uk

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a paper published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, Veronica Kwok, Li-Hai Tan, and their colleagues at the University of Hong Kong, conclude that the adult human brain is capable of new rapid growth when exposed to stimuli similar to what babies experience as they are learning from their environment.

The researches subjected 19 adult volunteers to a study where colored cards (2 shades of green and 2 blue) were shown to them; each with nonsensical names. The participants were then asked to accept the new words as actual descriptors for the new colors and to memorize them so that they could reply with the correct color name at a later date and to match them when asked. After the conditioning was carried out (over three days with five sessions; total time less than two hours) the subjects all underwent MRI scans, where it was revealed that new grey matter had formed in the left hemisphere of their brains. It’s not yet clear if the new matter was comprised of new neuron formation or if they were simply dendrites (branches).

Previous research has shown that new brain growth is possible over periods of time, but until now, it was thought that the human brain was incapable of adding over such a short period of time.

It appears the key lies in the name differentiation, and how the subjects perceived the colors based on the names they were given; something much deeper than say, asking subjects to simply memorize a list of names. It was a change in perception. This is backed up by the fact that the areas of the brain that grew new matter were parts of the brain known to process color and vision, but more importantly, perception.

The researchers were surprised by the findings as they’d set out to try to find answers to the long standing question of whether people come to perceive the world in certain ways depending on which language they happen to speak. Though they may not have solved that particular riddle, the results of their research might one day lead to new ways to help people with learning disabilities, or perhaps, even those with damage.

More information: Learning new color names produces rapid increase in gray matter in the intact adult human cortex, PNAS, Published online before print April 4, 2011, doi:10.1073/pnas.1103217108

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Mechanism behind neuron death in motor neurone disease and frontotemporal dementia discovered

April 20, 2018
Scientists have identified the molecular mechanism that leads to the death of neurons in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or motor neurone disease) and a common form of frontotemporal dementia.

When there's an audience, people's performance improves

April 20, 2018
Often, people think performing in front of others will make them mess up, but a new study led by a Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist found the opposite: being watched makes people do better.

Signaling between neuron types found to instigate morphological changes during early neocortex development

April 20, 2018
A team of researchers from several institutions in Japan has found that developing neocortex neurons in mammals undergo a morphological transition from a multipolar shape to a bipolar shape due at least partially to signaling ...

MRI technique detects spinal cord changes in MS patients

April 20, 2018
A Vanderbilt University Medical Center-led research team has shown that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect changes in resting-state spinal cord function in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Gene variant increases empathy-driven fear in mice

April 20, 2018
Researchers at the Center for Cognition and Sociality, within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS), have just published as study in Neuron reporting a genetic variant that controls and increases empathy-driven fear in mice. ...

Researchers develop a new method to discover drugs to treat epilepsy

April 19, 2018
For more than a third of children living with epilepsy, the currently approved medications do not stop their seizures. This statistic has not changed for the past five decades, despite the development of many new anti-seizure ...

10 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

SteveL
5 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2011
"Adult" age covers quite a culture-based range. Neither this article nor the provided link indicate specific ages or more detailed age ranges. If an "adult" is 18 years of age I'd imagine that the results would be somewhat different compared to an adult of 81 years of age.
Squirrel
5 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2011
The paper notes the subjects were "Nineteen adults, who were Beijing university student".
stealthc
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2011
heh who would have guessed the brain works like a muscle and if you don't exercise it you lose it.
Parsec
5 / 5 (5) Apr 05, 2011
heh who would have guessed the brain works like a muscle and if you don't exercise it you lose it.

As an engineer, I sometimes find vacations bittersweet. I love dearly taking time off, relaxing, and spending time with my family. I hate with a violent passion however that when I first re-engage in work, my brain feels like mush.

The one solution I have found over the years, is to take a textbook on some arcane complex subject to study, occasionally, while on trips. Or play chess. This study collaborates my experience.
mjesfahani
not rated yet Apr 05, 2011
It's a very good news because those brains which is injured by illnesses like MS have a chance to be again partly or fully ok :)
Au-Pu
5 / 5 (2) Apr 06, 2011
Can anything be done to prevent the likes of "hjkysfw" who are parasites from accessing the Physorg site?
Physorg should bill them for their advertisements at the highest rate any internet site charges.
Perhaps having to actually pay for something might stop these bludgers.
frajo
3 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2011
Can anything be done to prevent the likes of "hjkysfw" who are parasites from accessing the Physorg site?
PhysOrg could engage "janitors" who obtain the right to immediately block spam comments during those hours when PhysOrg staff is not working. These could be trustworthy voluntary users.
HealingMindN
not rated yet Apr 06, 2011
Look up memory exercises by Harry Lorayne and multiple mentality exercises by Harry Kahne. You'll develop new neural pathways in no time. Also try learning music or martial arts or learn a new language to build your grey matter. Have fun!
Javinator
2 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2011
Since some people are capable of learning new things faster than others, would it be reasonable to assume that their brains are capable of growing faster as well?

I wonder which parts of the brain govern the rate of the brain's ability to grow.
frajo
5 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2011
Since some people are capable of learning new things faster than others, would it be reasonable to assume that their brains are capable of growing faster as well?
Fast learning doesn't imply deep learning. Perhaps deep learners build more brain connections per time unit than fast learners.

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.