Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Researchers discover how inhibitory neurons behave during critical periods of learning

Date:
August 25, 2013
Source:
Carnegie Mellon University
Summary:
We've all heard the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." For years, neuroscientists have struggled to understand how the microcircuitry of the brain makes learning easier for the young, and more difficult for the old. New findings show how one component of the brain's circuitry -- inhibitory neurons -- behave during critical periods of learning.

We've all heard the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." Now neuroscientists are beginning to explain the science behind the adage.

For years, neuroscientists have struggled to understand how the microcircuitry of the brain makes learning easier for the young, and more difficult for the old. New findings published in the journal Nature by Carnegie Mellon University, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Irvine show how one component of the brain's circuitry -- inhibitory neurons -- behave during critical periods of learning.

The brain is made up of two types of cells -- inhibitory and excitatory neurons. Networks of these two kinds of neurons are responsible for processing sensory information like images, sounds and smells, and for cognitive functioning. About 80 percent of neurons are excitatory. Traditional scientific tools only allowed scientists to study the excitatory neurons.

"We knew from previous studies that excitatory cells propagate information. We also knew that inhibitory neurons played a critical role in setting up heightened plasticity in the young, but ideas about what exactly those cells were doing were controversial. Since we couldn't study the cells, we could only hypothesize how they were behaving during critical learning periods," said Sandra J. Kuhlman, assistant professor of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon and member of the joint Carnegie Mellon/University of Pittsburgh Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.

The prevailing theory on inhibitory neurons was that, as they mature, they reach an increased level of activity that fosters optimal periods of learning. But as the brain ages into adulthood and the inhibitory neurons continue to mature, they become even stronger to the point where they impede learning.

Newly developed genetic and imaging technologies are now allowing researchers to visualize inhibitory neurons in the brain and record their activity in response to a variety of stimuli. As a postdoctoral student at UCLA in the laboratory of Associate Professor of Neurobiology Joshua T. Trachtenberg, Kuhlman and her colleagues used these new techniques to record the activity of inhibitory neurons during critical learning periods. They found that, during heightened periods of learning, the inhibitory neurons didn't fire more as had been expected. They fired much less frequently -- up to half as often.

"When you're young you haven't experienced much, so your brain needs to be a sponge that soaks up all types of information. It seems that the brain turns off the inhibitory cells in order to allow this to happen," Kuhlman said. "As adults we've already learned a great number of things, so our brains don't necessarily need to soak up every piece of information. This doesn't mean that adults can't learn, it just means when they learn, their neurons need to behave differently."


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Sandra J. Kuhlman, Nicholas D. Olivas, Elaine Tring, Taruna Ikrar, Xiangmin Xu, Joshua T. Trachtenberg. A disinhibitory microcircuit initiates critical-period plasticity in the visual cortex. Nature, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nature12485

Cite This Page:

Carnegie Mellon University. "Researchers discover how inhibitory neurons behave during critical periods of learning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130825171831.htm>.
Carnegie Mellon University. (2013, August 25). Researchers discover how inhibitory neurons behave during critical periods of learning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130825171831.htm
Carnegie Mellon University. "Researchers discover how inhibitory neurons behave during critical periods of learning." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130825171831.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Get on Your Bike! London Cycling Popularity Soars Despite Danger

Get on Your Bike! London Cycling Popularity Soars Despite Danger

AFP (Sep. 1, 2014) Wedged between buses, lorries and cars, cycling in London isn't for the faint hearted. Nevertheless the number of people choosing to bike in the British capital has doubled over the past 15 years. Duration: 02:27 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) A new study suggests 100 percent of adult humans (those over 18 years of age) have Demodex mites living in their faces. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Liberia Continues Fight Against Ebola

Liberia Continues Fight Against Ebola

AFP (Aug. 30, 2014) Authorities in Liberia try to stem the spread of the Ebola epidemic by raising awareness and setting up sanitation units for people to wash their hands. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
California Passes 'yes-Means-Yes' Campus Sexual Assault Bill

California Passes 'yes-Means-Yes' Campus Sexual Assault Bill

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 30, 2014) California lawmakers pass a bill requiring universities to adopt "affirmative consent" language in their definitions of consensual sex, part of a nationwide drive to curb sexual assault on campuses. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
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:
from the past week

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