Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

When food is scarce, a smaller brain will do

Date:
March 7, 2013
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
A new study explains how young brains are protected when nutrition is poor. The findings reveal a coping strategy for producing a fully functional, if smaller, brain. The discovery, which was made in larval flies, shows the brain as an incredibly adaptable organ and may have implications for understanding the developing human brain as well, the researchers say.

New findings may help to explain well-documented patterns of brain growth in humans. The human brain is protected over other organs when nutrients are lacking late in fetal development, producing a brain that is large relative to organs such as the pancreas or intestine. But, in a fly model, when nutrients are limited early in larval development, the brain remains small along with the rest of the body. Those growth patterns are known as asymmetric and symmetric intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), respectively.
Credit: © PeterPunk / Fotolia

A new study explains how young brains are protected when nutrition is poor. The findings, published on March 7th in Cell Reports, a Cell Press publication, reveal a coping strategy for producing a fully functional, if smaller, brain. The discovery, which was made in larval flies, shows the brain as an incredibly adaptable organ and may have implications for understanding the developing human brain as well, the researchers say.

Related Articles


The key is a carefully timed developmental system that ultimately ensures neural diversity at the expense of neural numbers.

"In essence, this study reveals an adaptive strategy allowing the reduction of the number of neurons produced in the face of sub-optimal nutritional conditions, while preserving their diversity," said Cedric Maurange of Aix-Marseille Université in France. "This is a survival strategy permitting the developing brain to produce the minimal set of neurons necessary to be functional, at the minimum energetic cost."

Most of the neurons in the human brain are produced well before birth, as the developing fetus grows and changes in the womb. But how the young brain copes with adversity is an unresolved question. If a mother doesn't have enough food to eat, what happens to the brain of her baby?

To find out, Maurange and his colleagues looked to the fruit fly, a workhorse of biology. The much shorter lifespan of fruit flies means that they reach the equivalent of toddlerhood in just four days' time.

Their developmental studies in the fly visual system reveal an early sensitivity to the availability of amino acids, ingredients that are the building blocks of proteins. They found that a fly with all the amino acids it needs ends up with a larger pool of neural stem cells than one lacking those nutrients. Later, when those neural stem cells start to produce the many different types of neurons, that nutrient sensitivity goes away. The end result is a brain that is functional but smaller. In some flies, the optic lobe contained 40 percent fewer neurons and still worked.

"We were surprised to realize that the optic lobe can have such a drastically reduced number of neurons under dietary restriction and yet remains functional," Maurange said.

The findings may help to explain well-documented patterns of brain growth in humans. The human brain is protected over other organs when nutrients are lacking late in fetal development, producing a brain that is large relative to organs such as the pancreas or intestine. But when nutrients are limited early in larval development, the brain remains small along with the rest of the body. Those growth patterns are known as asymmetric and symmetric intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), respectively.

"Our work suggests new avenues to investigate how early nutrient restriction affects mammalian brain development and may help in understanding the mechanisms underlying symmetric and asymmetric IUGR in humans," Maurange said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Elodie Lanet, Alex P. Gould, Cédric Maurange. Protection of Neuronal Diversity at the Expense of Neuronal Numbers during Nutrient Restriction in the Drosophila Visual System. Cell Reports, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2013.02.006

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "When food is scarce, a smaller brain will do." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130307123944.htm>.
Cell Press. (2013, March 7). When food is scarce, a smaller brain will do. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130307123944.htm
Cell Press. "When food is scarce, a smaller brain will do." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130307123944.htm (accessed November 26, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) — A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) — Millions of American suffer from seasonal depression every year. It can lead to adverse health effects, but there are ways to ease symptoms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. 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