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Environmental stimuli keep the brain young

Göttingen scientists show that a stimulating environment keeps the brain fit and protects it against impairments (January 2014).

Physical, social, and cognitive external stimuli increase brain functions. A stimulating environment enhances the ability of neural networks to grow in an experience-dependent manner. This occurs even in adult animals, whose brains are usually less adaptable than those of young animals. Scientists at the University of Göttingen, the Bernstein Focus Neurotechnology Göttingen, and the Bernstein Focus Neuronal Basis of Learning, project "Visual Learning", have now demonstrated that a stimulating environment does not only maintain the youthful adaptability in the brain of adult mice, but may also restore it. In addition, it protects adult mice against adaptability impairments after stroke.

The researchers studied mice in particularly large cages containing running wheels, mazes and a variety of opportunities for social interactions. Over a longer period, the scientists measured activity changes in the visual cortex—a brain region that processes visual information. “Mice that have lived in this stimulating environment showed a high plasticity—meaning adaptability—in the visual cortex, even during late adulthood, and were also protected against any adverse effects of plasticity after stroke,” says Prof. Dr. Siegrid Löwel, head of the Systems Neuroscience Group at the University of Göttingen. “An extended stay in the stimulating environment could even restore the plasticity of adult mice that had previously resided in normal-sized cages up to the age in which the plasticity in the visual cortx is usually lost.”

Please read more in the complete press release by the University of Göttingen (in German only).

Copyright icon: Greifzu et al. (2014) PNAS, Doi: 10.1073/pnas.1313385111 (modified)