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Neurogenesis: how are new neurons created?

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It is known that certain experiences and habits kill neurons.

Drinking alcohol, suffering blows to the head, following an inadequate diet and a long list of situations translates into casualties among the neural population of our brain, which means that each day we could be losing a few cells nervous

Neurogenesis: the process of neuronal regeneration

However, not everything is death and destruction in the daily life of the typical adult human brain: the birth of new neurons also takes place, a phenomenon known as neurogenesis.

Neurogenesis, changing the conception of the brain

For many years it has been believed that the human brain is an artifact that develops during the first months of life and that, upon reaching adulthood, it stops changing. This conception of the brain left the door open to believe that the only possible modifications in our nervous system come through the death of neurons. Obviously, a person's brain changes after a part of the brain is removed. neocortex, just as it is not exactly the same after having suffered a small stroke.

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However, neurogenesis is a sign that the brain continues to form once childhood is behind. The birth of new cells by neurogenesis, which has been verified in an area of ​​a brain structure called the hippocampus and around the lateral ventricles filled with cerebrospinal fluid, implies that at any moment new neurons may appear that after a few days will migrate to other parts of the brain.

What is neurogenesis for?

Things that happen in the brain at the microscopic level are always very difficult to study, and the phenomenon of neurogenesis is no exception. We know that new neurons appear in adult humans, but we do not know very well in what situations they appear or what exactly they are for. However, in general terms, most neuroscientists agree that the birth of new nerve cells plays a role in the brain plasticityIn other words, the brain's ability to adapt to new experiences and change over time.

The case of neurogenesis in the hippocampus is especially interesting in this regard. This brain structure acts as a hinge between present experiences and memory, and that is why it is essential in the formation of memories and learning.

The birth of more neurons in this part of the brain could mean a greater ability to unite past and present, that is, to better adapt to an environment based on knowledge previous. Since past experiences form predictors of the future, it is adaptive that the hippocampus always have new neurons ready

If brain plasticity refers to the practically infinite combinatorial possibilities with which neurons signals each other, neurogenesis adds more carbon to all this succession of changes, since puts more neurons in play, compensating to some extent for the effects of neuronal death.

In what contexts are new neurons born?

Neurogenesis not only affects the processing of novel experiences: it is also subject to the changes that the body experiences in real time. Some situations promote the birth of neurons, while others put a brake on it. Of course, it is very difficult to define exactly which situations facilitate neurogenesis and which do not, since the infinity of experiences that each of us can have and the individual differences between us greatly complicate this study.

However, in general terms it can be said that the stress, the sedentary life and the sleep deprivation reduce the appearance of neurons, while the practice of voluntary exercise, exposure to cognitively stimulating environments and generally goal-oriented behaviors enhance neurogenesis.

Tips to enhance neurogenesis

All this, translated into daily life, means that to enhance neurogenesis in your hippocampus you should:

  • Sleep well and enough hours not to feel tired the rest of the day.
  • Do moderate exercise and generally keep boredom at bay. Neurogenesis seems to be geared toward adaptive purposes, so try to set realistic and interesting goals for yourself.
  • Do not expose yourself to more sources of stress than you can bear and make sure it doesn't affect you too much. You can try doing meditation.

They are simple steps and relatively easy to follow. The complicated things will already be taken care of by the automatic processes of your brain.

Bibliographic references:

  • Hanson, Nicola D.; Owens, Michael J.; Nemeroff, Charles B. (December 1, 2011). "Depression, Antidepressants, and Neurogenesis: A Critical Reappraisal". Neuropsychopharmacology.
  • Rakic, P (October 2009). "Evolution of the neocortex: a perspective from developmental biology.". Nature reviews. Neuroscience.
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