Rutgers behavioral and systems neuroscientist Tracey Shors, who co-authored the study, found that the newborn brain cells in young rats that were successful at learning survived while the same brain cells in animals that didn't master the task died quickly.
Shors, professor in the Department of Psychology and Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers, said in those that didn't learn, three weeks after the new brain cells were made, nearly one-half of them were no longer there but in those that learned, it was hard to count. There were so many that were still alive.
By examining the hippocampus - a portion of the brain associated with the process of learning - after the rats learned to associate a sound with a motor response, scientists found that the new brain cells injected with dye a few weeks earlier were still alive in those that had learned the task while the cells in those who had failed did not survive.
Since the process of producing new brain cells on a cellular level is similar in animals, including humans, Shors says ensuring that adolescent children learn at optimal levels is critical.
The study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.