Give Now

A Moment of Science

Is My Brain Static Or Constantly Changing?

Scientists used to think that for all its complexity, the brain was pretty static. But... is this true today?

drawing of a brain - sketched

Photo: TZA (Flickr)

Never changing or always changing - what is your brain like?

Scientists used to think that for all its complexity, the brain was pretty static. Once the brain matured, it essentially stopped growing and changing. And when neurons, or brain cells, were lost or damaged, they were gone for good.

Not Static

But recent discoveries have caused neuroscientists to change their tune. The human brain is anything but static–in fact, it’s constantly growing and changing as it adapts to new information and circumstances.

For example, scientists now know that there’s a mechanism in the hippocampus a brain part involved with memory, among other things that gives birth to new brain cells. Scientists don’t know exactly why the brain makes new cells or what the cells do. They may have something to do with forming memories, or be used to replace dead or damaged cells.

Being Active

In any case, in a recent experiment, scientists working with mice shut down their brains’ ability to make new cells. At first, the researchers observed that the mice had reduced functioning in cellular mechanisms in the brain important for memory formation.

But after about six weeks, they noticed that the mice’s brains had begun to compensate by making existing neurons more active. Relatively newborn neurons created before the researchers shut down the neuron birthing process reacted by living longer than they normally would–almost as though they knew that replacements would not be forthcoming and so they had to work overtime to help the brain get back on course.

The Future

This research is of the most basic, foundational kind. But knowing more about how the brain responds to changes could eventually have profound implications for how doctors understand and treat Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other brain illnesses.

Read More:

  • Reorganizing the Plastic Brain (TS-Si)

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science