Nerve cells do not recover: truth or myth?

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PSYCHOLOGIES No. 18

Nerve cells not restored:
true or myth?

Sometimes this statement becomes the main argument when we try to convince another person to worry less because of problems and troubles. And before he really had a scientific basis. But now new data has appeared, says neuropsychologist Margarita Alfimova, who refute the usual notions.

“The centers of the adult brain are something established, complete, and unchanging. Everything can die, nothing can be restored, ”wrote in 1913 the histologist Ramon-i-Cahal, who studied brain cells.

“This idea has become one of the main dogmas of neurobiology,” says Margarita Alfimova, a neuropsychologist, leading researcher at the Scientific Center for Mental Health. – It seemed logical, because in the brain there are established chains of neurons, and the formation of new cells could destabilize this system.

Many believed in the immutability of brain cells so much that they ignored the discovery of Joseph Altman and Gopal D. Das in 1965 – neurogenesis, that is, the process of the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus of rats. Only in 1998 Peter Erickson convincingly proved the existence of neurogenesis in the human brain. ”

What do we know today? The birth of new neurons in the human brain occurs throughout life, slowing down a bit after 40 years. Moreover, neurons are not born in the whole brain, but only in two areas – in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus and in the olfactory system.

“The hippocampus is of particular interest to scientists, because this area of ​​the brain is associated with memory, with emotions,” Margarita Alfimova said. – It is believed that about 700 neurons of the dentate gyrus are updated every day. Some of the old ones are dying, and new ones are being built into established networks. ”

What benefits can be drawn from these processes?

“First of all,” explains Margarita Alfimova, “biologists are exploring the possibility of transplanting new neurons into damaged areas of the brain, which may be relevant for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases associated with degeneration and brain injuries. The fact that neural tissue survives after transplantation and stimulates brain regeneration, for example, after strokes, has already been proven in animals. ”

In addition, the effect of neurogenesis on memory and cognitive processes, on pattern recognition, on the ability to navigate in space and act in a context-sensitive manner is now being actively studied.

Studies show that moderate physical activity enhances neurogenesis and improves cognitive function. The same effect has an increase in intervals between meals. But depression, alcoholism and severe stress slow down the formation of new neurons.

So the meaning that we put in the call to maintain composure – “Calm down, the nerve cells are not restored,” – remains the same. But, based on modern scientific data, it would correctly be expressed differently: “Calm down, you slow down neurogenesis.”

Margarita Alfimova

About the expert

Margarita Alfimova – Doctor of Psychology, Leading Researcher at the Laboratory of Clinical Genetics, Scientific Center for Mental Health.

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Text: Alla Anufrieva
Photo Source: Getty images

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