James Callens, ’14, Staff Writer
Those studying biology and psychology might already know that neuronal development is characterized by a period of exuberant synaptic growth. In other words, the juvenile brain is much more malleable than the adult brain.
Thus, it is able to recover more quickly from trauma than the more stable adult brain. Obviously, a slower working brain gives clarity to reason why there is such a decline in mental acuity as we age.
But, wouldn’t it nice to “flip the switch” and be young again? Over recent months, Yale Medical School students were able to identify the gene responsible for suppressing the high level of plasticity of an adolescent brain. They declared that the Nogo Receptor gene 1 (NRG-1) is responsible for brain maturation.
In response to these findings, the researchers were able to recreate youthful brains, in adult mice, that facilitated learning and healing. The NRG-1 was previously known to just block axon regeneration following an injury and stabilize the neuronal wiring of an adult brain.
But researchers realized that it is also found in dendrites of postsynaptic neurons acting as a barrier to limit the number of excitatory potentials in the synapse. When researchers used mice in their study that had no NRG-1, the mice were able to retain their juvenile-like brain all through adulthood.
In older mice, the NRG-1 was inhibited and researchers received the same results. Also, the NRG-1 was found to slow the loss of memory. Mice without the NGR-1 lost stressful memories more quickly than mice with a normal functioning NRG-1. Yale student and primary researcher Feras Akbik stated that “…this raises the potential that manipulating the Nogo Receptor in humans might accelerate and magnify rehabilitation after brain injuries like strokes and even PTSD.”
The study was funded by the National Institute of Health and the company Strittmatter is currently investigating applications of NRG-1 to repair spinal cord damage.
Hopefully in the future many people, especially sports players and the elderly, can look forward to a faster recovery process from an injury.