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Experience Affects New Neuron Survival and Function in Adult Brain

Fred H. Gage, professor in the Laboratory of Genetics, reported in the Journal of Neuroscience that new neurons in brain regions associated with learning and memory are more likely to survive when mice are exposed to the same experience more than once.

Researchers labeled dividing cells in mouse brain and then exposed mice to an "enriched" environment with tunnels and a running wheel. After they re-exposed mice to a second similar experience, they found increases in new neuron survival.

But not just any repetition would do – when the second exposure was to a different environment, like a water maze, neuron survival was enhanced but not as robustly as in mice that had the identical experience repeated.

Young neurons were most affected, and once they survived a critical developmental period, their activity became stable. The study shows that within a critical time window experience determines the survival of newborn neurons and could have a long-term affect on their function in learning and memory.