Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Growing brain is particularly flexible: How the brain changes during growth

Date:
June 22, 2010
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
Science has long puzzled over why a baby's brain is particularly flexible and why it easily changes. Is it because babies have to learn a lot? Scientists have now put forward a new explanation: Maybe it is because the brain still has to grow.

Computer simulation of the development of ocular dominance columns in a simple model with cortical growth. Black areas correspond to a preference for the left eye, white areas a preference for the right eye. The pattern is initially striped and slowly dissolves after the growth into a zigzag pattern. A similar rearrangement is also shown by experimental studies on the visual cortex of the cat.
Credit: Wolfgang Keil

Science has long puzzled over why a baby's brain is particularly flexible and why it easily changes. Is it because babies have to learn a lot? A group of researchers from the Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience, the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen, the Schiller University in Jena and Princeton University (USA) have now put forward a new explanation: Maybe it is because the brain still has to grow.

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using a combination of experiments, mathematical models and computer simulations they showed that neuronal connections in the visual cortex of cats are restructured during the growth phase and that this restructuring can be explained by self-organisational processes. The study was headed by Matthias Kaschube, former researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization and now at Princeton University (USA).

The brain is continuously changing. Neuronal structures are not hard-wired, but are modified with every learning step and every experience. Certain areas of the brain of a newborn baby are particularly flexible, however. In animal experiments, the development of the visual cortex can be strongly influenced in the first months of life, for example, by different visual stimuli.

Nerve cells in the visual cortex of fully-grown animals divide up the processing of information from the eyes: Some "see" only the left eye, others only the right. Cells of right or left specialisation each lie close to one another in small groups, called columns. The researchers showed that during growth, these structures are not simply inflated -- columns do not become larger but their number increases. Neither do new columns form from new nerve cells. The number of nerve cells remains almost unchanged, a large part of the growth of the visual cortex can be attributed to an increase in the number of non-neuronal cells. These changes can be explained by the fact that existing cells change their preference for the right or the left eye. In addition, another of the researchers' observations also points to such a restructuring: The arrangement of the columns changes. While the pattern initially looks stripy, these stripes dissolve in time and the pattern becomes more irregular.

"This is an enormous achievement by the brain -- undertaking such a restructuring while continuing to function," says Wolfgang Keil, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization Göttingen and first author of the study. "There is no engineer behind this conducting the planning, the process must generate itself." The researchers used mathematical models and computer simulations to investigate how the brain could proceed to achieve this restructuring. On the one hand, the brain tries to keep the neighbourhood relations in the visual cortex as uniform as possible. On the other, the development of the visual cortex is determined by the visual process itself -- cells which have once been stimulated more strongly by the left or right eye try to maintain this particular calling.

The researchers' model explains the formation of columns by taking both these tendencies into account. The scientists showed that when the tissue grows and the size of the columns is kept constant, the columns in the computer model change exactly as they had observed in their experimental studies on the visual cortex of the cat: The stripes dissolve into a zigzag pattern and thus become more irregular. In this way, the researchers provide a mathematical basis which realistically describes how the visual cortex could restructure during the growth phase.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Wolfgang Keil, Karl-Friedrich Schmidt, Siegrid Löwel and Matthias Kaschube. Reorganization of columnar architecture in the growing visual cortex. PNAS, June 21, 2010 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0913020107

Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Growing brain is particularly flexible: How the brain changes during growth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100622124706.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2010, June 22). Growing brain is particularly flexible: How the brain changes during growth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100622124706.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Growing brain is particularly flexible: How the brain changes during growth." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100622124706.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola Fears Keep Guinea Hospitals Empty

Ebola Fears Keep Guinea Hospitals Empty

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) — Fears of Ebola are keeping doctors and patients alike away from hospitals in the West African nation of Guinea. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Orthodontist Mom Jennifer Salzer on the Best Time for Braces

Orthodontist Mom Jennifer Salzer on the Best Time for Braces

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) — Is your child ready? Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

U.S. Issues Ebola Travel Restrictions, Are Visa Bans Next?

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) — Now that the U.S. is restricting travel from West Africa, some are dropping questions about a travel ban and instead asking about visa bans. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
More People Diagnosed With TB In 2013, But There's Good News

More People Diagnosed With TB In 2013, But There's Good News

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) — The World Health Organizations says TB numbers rose in 2013, but it's partly due to better detection and more survivors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins