Old Neurons, New Tricks; June 2012; Scientific American Magazine; by Meehan Crist; 1 Page(s)
For decades researchers have known that our ability to remember everyday experiences depends on a slender belt of brain tissue called the hippocampus. Basic memory functions, such as forming new memories and recalling old ones, were thought to be performed along this belt by different sets of neurons. Now findings suggest that the same neurons in fact perform both these very different functions, changing from one role to another as they age.
The vast majority of these hippocampal neurons, called granule cells, develop when we are very young and remain in place throughout our lives. But about 5 percent develop in adulthood through the birth of new neurons, a process known as neurogenesis. Young granule cells help form new memories, but as they get older they switch roles to helping recall the past. Newer granule cells pick up the slack, taking on the role of helping to form new memories. Susumu Tonegawa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues published the findings on March 30 in the journal Cell.