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December 17,
2001

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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Findings refute growth of new brain cells

A study conducted by David Kornack, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy, and his former advisor, neuroscience pioneer Pasko Rakic of Yale University, finds no evidence that adult primates are able to create new neurons in the most sophisticated part of the brain.

Featured in the December 7 issue of the journal Science, the results run counter to a widely publicized study two years ago in which other researchers reported the first discovery of neurogenesis--formation of new neurons--in the neocortex of adult monkeys.

"As a neuroscientist, oftentimes the first question I'm asked when I meet someone is, 'How can I get more brain cells?' I'm as interested in the question as everyone else," says Kornack. "It's now apparent that although some parts of the primate brain do acquire new neurons in adulthood, the neocortex is not among these regions."

For decades, scientists believed that adult humans and other primates such as monkeys were unable to produce brain cells. However, in the last few years, several scientists equipped with advanced imaging techniques have reported growth of new neurons in adult primates like monkeys and humans in certain older parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, which is key to memory, and the olfactory bulb, which is important for smell.

Two years ago, the idea took a giant step forward when researchers studying adult monkeys reported new neurons growing in the part of the brain that controls sophisticated behaviors such as language and planning. These results hinted to a possible treatment for degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer's.

However, in this recent study, Kornack and Rakic used the most advanced cell analysis techniques available and found no new neurons, despite painstaking analysis of thousands of new cells.

One upshot of the new findings, Kornack says, is that scientists should look to mechanisms besides neurogenesis to understand the workings of the neocortex, such as how we learn and store memories over a lifetime.



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