Dr.Sunil Gandhi, Neurobiologist, University of California, Irvine, and colleagues have successfully re-created a critical juvenile period in the brains of adult mice, in other words, they have reactivated brain plasticity, the rapid and robust changes in neural pathways and synapses as a result of learning and experience.
And in doing so, the researchers have cleared a trail for further study that may lead to new treatments for developmental brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
The scientists achieved this by transplanting a certain type of embryonic neuron into the brains of adult mice. The transplanted neurons express gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chief inhibitory neurotransmitter that aids in motor control, vision and many other cortical functions.
In the study, the transplanted GABA neurons created a new period of heightened plasticity that allowed for vigorous rewiring of the adult brain. In a sense, old brain processes became young again.
These results raise hopes that GABA neuron transplantation might have future clinical applications. This line of research is also likely to shed light on the basic brain mechanisms that create critical periods.
Gandhi said that these experiments make clear that developmental mechanisms located within these GABA cells control the timing of the critical period.