Scientists learn about the brain’s ability to reorganize itself

A new study from The University of Michigan has found that after being disrupted, mouse brains are able to shift important functions tied to learning and memory.

So when Geoffrey Murphy, Ph.D., begins to talk about plastic structures, it’s important to know that he’s not talking about the actual plastics we use in our everyday lives. To Murphy, an associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Michigan Medical School, plasticity is a reference to the brain’s ability to change as we learn.


According to a University of Michigan Health System press release, Murphy’s lab, in cooperation with U-M’s Neurodevelopment and Regeneration Laboratory run by Jack Parent, M.D., recently displayed how the plasticity of the brain permitted mice to reestablish important functions related to learning and memory after the scientists inhibited the animals’ ability to make certain new brain cells.


The research results, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, bring scientists a bit closer to separating the ways which the brain deals with interferences and redirects neural functioning .

This could eventually lead to treatments for cognitive impairments in humans, which are caused by disease and aging.

“It’s amazing how the brain is capable of reorganizing itself in this manner,” says Murphy, co-senior author of the study and researcher at U-M’s Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute. “Right now, we’re still figuring out exactly how the brain accomplishes all this at the molecular level, but it’s sort of comforting to know that our brains are keeping track of all of this for us.”

In research that was conducted previously, the scientists had discovered that restricting cell division in the hippocampuses of mice using radiation or genetic manipulation led to reduced functionality in a cell mechanism important to memory formation known as long-term potentiation.

In this study though, the researchers proved that the interruption is temporary and within six weeks, the mouse brains were able to compensate for the disruption and reestablish plasticity, says Parent, the study’s other senior author, a researcher with the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and associate professor of neurology at the U-M Medical School.


When the ongoing growth of key brain cells in adult mice was stopped, the researchers found the brain circuitry compensated for the disruption by enabling existing neurons to be more active. The remaining neurons also had longer life spans than when new cells were constantly being made.


“The results suggest that the birth of brain cells in the adult, which was experimentally disrupted, must be really important – important enough for the whole system to reorganize in response to its loss,” Parent says.

Information provided by University of Michigan Health System