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Stimulation of brain circuits promotes the growth of neurons in adulthood, improving cognition and mood – ScienceDaily

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We humans are losing our mental acuity, the unfortunate side effect of aging. And for people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, loss of cognitive function, often accompanied by mood disorders such as anxiety, is a painful experience. One way to counteract the decline in cognitive ability and anxiety is to stimulate the creation of new neurons. For the first time, researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have targeted a specific type of neuron in mice to increase nerve stem cell production and stimulate the creation of new adult neurons that affect behavior.

Targeting these cells is reported in the journal Nature Neurology, modulated memory recovery and change in anxiety-like behavior in mice. In essence, UNC scientists have increased electrical activity between cells in the hypothalamus and hippocampus to create new neurons – an important process called neurogenesis.

“Targeting hypothalamic neurons to enhance adult hippocampal neurogenesis will benefit not only brain function,” said senior author Juan Song, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology, “but also has the potential to treat cognitive and affective disorders related to cognitive and affective disorders. ».

Most of the neurons we carry throughout our lives were created before we were born and organized in early childhood. But such neurogenesis continues into old age and throughout life. In fact, one of the reasons for the decline in cognitive ability and anxiety, and even diseases such as Alzheimer’s, is the suspension of neurogenesis.

Song, a member of the UNC Center for Neuroscience, is studying the detailed interactions between brain cells that support neurogenesis. She knew that the neurogenesis of the adult hippocampus plays an important role in memory and emotion processing, and that the activity of neural circuits – think “electrical activity” – regulates this process in an ever-changing way.

No one knew whether it was possible to manipulate this neural circuit activity to stimulate neurogenesis to such an extent that the effect would be seen as a change in behavior, such as improved memory or less anxiety.

To see the effect of modulating neural activity, the Sung Laboratory conducted experiments led by one of the first authors, Ya-Dong Li, Ph.D., and Yang-Jia Luo, Ph.D., both graduate students. They used optogenetics – essentially a method that uses light to trigger neuronal activity – in a small brain structure called the supramillar nucleus (SuM). SuM is located inside the hypothalamic region of the brain; it helps manage things from cognition to movement and sleep / wake.

When Song researchers chronically stimulated SuM neurons, they found reliable stimulation of neurogenesis in several stages. They observed an increase in the production of nerve stem cells and the creation of new adult-born neurons with improved properties. Optogenetic stimulation of these new neurons then altered memory and anxiety behavior.

“We also show that SuM neurons are very responsive when mice experience new things in their environment,” Song said. “Actually, in a new mouse environment to demand these cells for neurogenesis ”.

Impaired hippocampal neurogenesis in adults correlates with many pathological conditions such as aging, neurodegenerative diseases, and mental disorders. “Therefore,” Song added, “targeting hypothalamic neurons to enhance the neurogenesis of the adult hippocampus will not only benefit brain function but also has the potential to treat cognitive and affective deficits associated with various brain disorders.”

Other authors include Ze-Ka Chen, Luis Quintanilla and Libo Zhang of UNC-Chapel Hill; Ioan Cheras and Michael Lazarus of Tsukuba University, Japan; and Zhi-Li Huang of Fudan University, China.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Alzheimer’s Association and the NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

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