Sunday, November 16, 2014

New Knowledge About the Human Brain's Plasticity

News Brief by Sam Kessel      

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have found that the human brain's ability to develop new connections between cells is more complex than previously thought. Learning new information involves the communication of nerve cells in the brain using electrical impulses that travel down a long, thin part of the nerve cell called the axon. In order for the electrical signal to travel as fast as possible down the axon, an insulating material, called myelin, is wrapped around the axon. 

The appearance of a nerve cell can be compared to a string of sausage links, the sausages are like the myelin sheath and the connection between them is like the exposed axon. Myelin allows the electrical signal to progress in the gaps where the axon is exposed between the insulating material. The research results published in the journal Cell have shown that humans have the ability to regulate the amount of myelin produced more quickly than mice and rats, contrary to previous theories. Subjects in the study were 55 deceased people whose ages ranged from less than 1 to 92 years old. 

Dr Jonas Frisén, the leader of the research team, believes that it is the ability to quickly regulate the amount of myelin, which allows humans to generate new connections between neurons and learn faster than other species.

Karolinska Institutet. "New knowledge about human brain's plasticity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 November 2014. .

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