Battlepanda: The regenerating brain


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The regenerating brain

This is one of those awesome articles which contain so many angles that one rushes to open up a blogger window right after reading it and realize that it's hard to decide which facet of the article to blog about: The awesome Elizabeth Gould who overturned the entrenched scientific paradigm (dogma, really) that the brain does not regenerate itself? The fact that there are researchers out there who are reversing parkinsons (in lab rats, so don't get too excited) based on Gould's discoveries? Did you know that the way Prozac works (according to the neurogenesis perspective) has nothing to do with serotonins at all? How about the fact that, at least in lab animals, the blander your environment, the less your brain bothers to develop new neurons?
The naturalistic habitat that Gould has created for these marmosets is essential to her studies, which involve understanding how the environment affects the brain. Eight years after Gould defied the entrenched dogma of her science and proved that the primate brain is always creating new neurons, she has gone on to demonstrate an even more startling fact: The structure of our brain, from the details of our dendrites to the density of our hippocampus, is incredibly influenced by our surroundings. Put a primate under stressful conditions, and its brain begins to starve. It stops creating new cells. The cells it already has retreat inwards. The mind is disfigured.

The social implications of this research are staggering. If boring environments, stressful noises, and the primate’s particular slot in the dominance hierarchy all shape the architecture of the brain—and Gould’s team has shown that they do—then the playing field isn’t level. Poverty and stress aren’t just an idea: they are an anatomy. Some brains never even have a chance.
The human brain, it seems, is both fragile and resiliant -- an unfortunate start in life can result in long-ranging neurological repercussions that affect the individual into adulthood and beyond. But those repercussions are also not irrevokable. All in all, the emergance of the field of neurogenesis seems to be an optimistic development.