Mental activity could stave off age-related cognitive and memory decline, suggest researchers.
UC Irvine neurobiologists have provided the first visual evidence that learning promotes brain health - and that mental stimulation could limit the debilitating effects of aging on memory and the mind.
Using a novel visualization technique they devised to study memory, a research team led by Lulu Chen and Christine Gall found that everyday forms of learning animate neuron receptors that help keep brain cells functioning at optimum levels.
These receptors are activated by a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which facilitates the growth and differentiation of the connections, or synapses, responsible for communication among neurons. BDNF is key in the formation of memories.
"The findings confirm a critical relationship between learning and brain growth and point to ways we can amplify that relationship through possible future treatments," says Chen, a graduate researcher in anatomy and neurobiology.
Study results appear in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for the week of March 1.