Neurogenesis

It never pays to be too sure of anything. Science teaches us that fact every day. It used to be common knowledge that, once your brain was injured, that was it. Break your arm, bruise your spleen, and healing is possible. New cells generate and repair the damage. But injure your brain? No way. Too bad. Tough. The brain cells you had when you were born were all you get.

That conventional wisdom got thrown out the window when researchers discovered that the brain may indeed be able to generate new cells and possibly have the potential to repair itself, even in adulthood. The implications of this discovery are enormous, especially when you consider what this will mean for sufferers of stroke, Parkinson's disease, and depression.

Fact

Neurogenesis is a Latin word. As in the Book of Genesis — the beginning of the Bible — genesis means beginning, and neurogenesis means a rebirth of nerve cells in the brain. It's creation, ongoing.

Some Good News

Do you like puzzles? Scientists love them. To understand what's happening in brain research, think of a jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle's not in the box, however. Someone has scattered the pieces throughout the house. There's one under the sofa, a couple are inside the lampshades, and some are inside the pitted olives in the can on the third shelf of the pantry, and the rest? Well, they're somewhere.

To make assembling this puzzle more interesting, you don't know how many pieces there are supposed to be. You also don't know what the finished puzzle will look like. Sound like fun? It may not be your cup of tea, but it can help you understand the excitement when scientists find two pieces of research that fit together.

That's pretty much what happened during the 1960s and 1970s, when scientists discovered that the axons of the neurons in the brain and spinal cord could regrow, to some degree, after trauma.

The Depression Connection

Stress, depression, antidepressants, and neurogenesis — research is now focusing on a possible connection. If stress inhibits neurogenesis in the hippocampus, then relieving stress — through the use of antidepressants — may increase neurogenesis, and increased neurogenesis may hold promise in the search for a cure for depression. That's what's in the works. For now, scientists do know that exercise and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) also promote neurogenesis.

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