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Newborn neurons observed in a live brain for first time


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THERE they are! Newborn neurons vital for memory have been viewed in a live brain for the first time. The work could aid treatments for anxiety and stress disorders.

Attila Losonczy at Columbia University Medical Center in New York and his team implanted a tiny microscope into the brains of live mice, the brain cells of which had been modified to make newly made neurons glow.

The mice then ran on a treadmill as the team tweaked the surrounding sights, smells and sounds. The researchers paired a small electric shock with some cues, so the mice learned to associate these with an unpleasant experience.

They then deactivated the newborn neurons – present in areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory – using optogenetics, which switches off specific cells with light. After this, the mice were unable to tell the difference between the scary and safe cues, becoming fearful of them all (Neurondoi.org/bc7v). “It suggests that newborn cells do something special that allows animals to tell apart and separate memories,” says Losonczy.

An inability to discriminate between similar sensory information triggered by different events – such as the sound of a gunshot and a car backfiring – is often seen in panic and anxiety disorders, such as PTSD. This suggests that new neurons, or a lack of them, plays a part in such conditions and could guide novel treatments.

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JWTalk 22.5.22 (changelog)