Learning not only provides knowledge but may also protect us in ways unknown to us till now. Well, UC Irvine neurobiologists are offering the primary visual proof that learning could encourage brain health and consequently, that mental stimulation may restrict the incapacitating consequences of aging on memory and the mind.

By means of a new visualization method they crafted to study, researchers appear to have discovered that daily forms of learning animate neuron receptors may aid in keeping brain cells working at optimum levels. These receptors are said to be triggered by a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which may enable the development and differentiation of the connections, or synapses, accountable for interaction among neurons. BDNF is believed to be vital in the development of memories.

Lulu Chen, a graduate study author in anatomy & neurobiology, commented, “The findings confirm a critical relationship between learning and brain growth and point to ways we can amplify that relationship through possible future treatments.”

Apart from finding that brain activity seems to trigger BDNF signaling at the places where neurons create synapses, experts found out that this procedure may be associated with learning-related brain rhythms, known as theta rhythms, apparently imperative to the encoding of new memories.

Theta rhythms arising in the hippocampus apparently entail numerous neurons shooting synchronously at a rate of three to eight times per second. These rhythms have supposedly been linked to long-term potentiation, a cellular mechanism seemingly emphasizing learning and memory. In rodent studies, the team discovered that both unsupervised learning and artificial application of theta rhythms appear to have activated BDNF signaling at synapse creation sites.

Christine Gall, a professor of anatomy & neurobiology, remarked, “This relationship has implications for maintaining good brain health. There is evidence that theta rhythms weaken as we age, and our discoveries suggest that this can result in memory impairment. On the other hand, they suggest that staying mentally active as we age can keep neuronal BDNF signaling at a constant rate, which may limit memory and cognitive decline.”

Scientists are now finding out whether learning-induced development signals may reduce with age and, if so, whether this could be overturned with a new clan of experimental drugs.

The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.