Brain Growth: Using Your Head

Neural cells just keep on reproducing, a study says. Can food for thought bulk up your gray matter?

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Feeling brain-dead? Don’t worry –- your tired old gray matter may work hard for you yet. Research to be published November in the journal Nature Medicine suggests that at least one area of the adult brain can reproduce and generate new cells, even after death. That is, of course, utterly contrary to everything we thought about the brain up until now. It was assumed that at some point in your grown-up life, brain cells stopped generating and started dying off. Not true -– at least not in the hippocampus, according to a team of American and Swedish scientists who took samples of this portion of the brain from cancer patient autopsies.

The results confirm a number of other studies made –- but essentially ignored -- over the past 30 years, which saw the same growth occur in the same area of the brain in rats and birds. The hippocampus is our learning and memory center -– and in adult birds, it grew every time they learned new songs. Could lifelong education literally boost your brainpower? "We have to try to determine whether we might be able to have some positive control over how the human brain cells divide," said Dr. Fred Gage, the team leader. Not to mention whether this could help arrest the neurological loss experienced by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s sufferers. Get your thinking caps on.