2.17 Neurogenesis: Definition & Research

Jan 18, 2020 | ch2 Biological Bases of Behaviour, Courses, Intro to Psychology

In this lesson, you will discover what neurogenesis is and how it affects our everyday lives. You will also learn about the historical viewpoint of neurogenesis as well as newer, more exciting research on this important function.

What is Neurogenesis?

The term neurogenesis might sound like something straight out of a science fiction movie; however, it is not as complicated or futuristic as it may seem. First, let’s examine the term. The first part represents the word neuron, which means nerve cell. The second part, genesis, means beginning, or creation of. Therefore, neurogenesis is a fancier term that simply means the creation of new nerve cells.

Although it is not necessary to know each of the neuron’s parts in detail here, it is vital to understand that neurons have various working parts that connect and communicate with other neurons.

Neurons connect and communicate with each other.

Neurogenesis occurs most actively in babies. However, it continues to occur in children and even teenagers. In fact, the brain, which is one area of the body that contains neurons, is not fully developed until the late teen years. This explains a lot about some teenagers’ behavior, doesn’t it?

Neurogenesis supports many human functions, including movement, learning and memory. Nerve cells are the central mechanism of the central nervous system, which includes the brain, as mentioned earlier, as well as the spinal cord. Neurons essentially talk to each other through electrical or chemical activity, and in doing so, are involved in telling the body what to do, such as take one step in front of the other in order to walk, for instance.

Historical Views of Neurogenesis

In the past, it was thought that neurogenesis only took place in babies, children and teenagers (as mentioned above). It was believed that the adult brain was static. In other words, it was thought that neurogenesis completely stopped happening at some unspecified point in adulthood.

In the 1960s, researchers began to dig deeper into the workings of neuron functioning and found that birds of all ages experience neurogenesis. Although this was exciting to some, many critics could not accept that it might be true for adult mammals as well. Yet, as scientists’ efforts to better understand neurogenesis continued over time, more researchers considered the idea that maybe, just maybe, neurogenesis may also be occurring in adult humans.

Newer Research

More recently, it has been discovered that the generation of new nerve cells in the adult brain does, in fact, occur. This has been a thrilling discovery because it means that the brain can be strengthened and improved with the growth of new cells. This is because when neurogenesis occurs, it also means cells are talking to each other more loudly.

In result, the brain is more active, and cells are even making new connections with each other, which is called neuroplasticity. This term also represents neurons’ ability to reshape and mold throughout life. Neuroplasticity is the reason people can sometimes regain some of their motor functioning after a stroke by relearning how to move or speak.

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is also the function behind many brain exercise games that are now available. Have you wanted to pick up a new skill, learn a new sport or start playing a new instrument lately? These activities can also encourage neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, so go for it!

Learning to play a new instrument can initiate neurogenesis.

Although more research about neurogenesis is underway, there is still not enough substantial data for researchers to say exactly how it works in adults. Interest continues to grow, especially at a time when there seems to be more awareness of neuron-related health concerns. Unfortunately, skepticism also continues to grow; however, that is often the case with any groundbreaking discovery. All in all, it is exciting to imagine that adult neurogenesis may eventually play a very big role in eradicating horrific neurological illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Alzheimer’s disease.

Lesson Summary

Neurogenesis is the growth or creation (genesis) of new neurons, or nerve cells. Neurogenesis supports many human functions, including movement, learning and memory.

Researchers first believed neurogenesis only took place from birth to the teenage years, but it has been found that it also takes place in adults.

During neurogenesis, cells make new connections with each other, which is called neuroplasticity. This term also represents neurons’ ability to reshape and mold throughout life; for example, it is the function that allows people to sometimes regain some of their motor functioning after a stroke by relearning how to move or speak.

Because neurogenesis plays such an active role in our everyday lives, the more recent research regarding its continuation throughout adulthood is potentially very exciting news for people with neurodegenerative diseases, such as MS and Alzheimer’s disease.

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