Learning can cause brain damage

A team of scientists based at UCSF has established a link between learning and brain damage. Researchers found that brain activity could lead to DNA damage within brain cells, and although the damage is repaired quickly, it might explain the mechanism behind some neurological diseases. So thanks a lot, mum, I told you nothing good would come of law school.

The DNA damage is negligible and it is quickly repaired, but in theory at least it is possible that too much brain activity could result in some physical damage to the nerve cells in your brain. Alcohol and drugs tend to kill brain cells faster than watching a political debate, so the learned among us are safe. Probably.

The researchers used genetically modified mice that were tailored made to mimic some mutations associated with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. They found indications of brain damage went up when the brains of the mice were active, when they were given a new environment to explore. The control group of mice also showed signs of DNA damage, but at somewhat lower levels.

The scientists then tried to figure out whether the damage was caused solely be neural activity, by shining a bright light into the mice while they were anesthetised. That also worked and it seems the DNA damage is inflicted by neural activity. Then they tried using a range of inhibitors and found that the damage is caused by a single neural signalling molecule – glutamate.

Fortunately the researchers found that the damage usually repairs within a single day. However, if you want to stay on the safe side, we recommend watching a few extra hours of reality TV.