Growing New Neurons May Help Us Adapt Better
The discovery that the brain continues to produce neurons in adulthood challenges a dogma of neuroscience, but the role of these neurons in behavior is still not clear. Researchers have synthesized the literature on this topic, reviewing environmental factors that influence the birth of neurons in the adult hippocampus, a brain region that plays a role in memory.
The authors discuss how the birth of such neurons may help animals and humans adapt to their current environment and circumstances in a complex and changing world. They advocate for testing these ideas using naturalistic designs, such as allowing laboratory rodents to live in more natural social burrow settings and observing how circumstances such as social status influence the rate at which new neurons are born.
"New neurons may serve as a means to fine-tune the hippocampus to the predicted environment," Opendak says. "In particular, seeking out rewarding experiences or avoiding stressful experiences may help each individual optimize his or her own brain. However, more naturalistic experimental conditions may be a necessary step toward understanding the adaptive significance of neurons born in the adult brain."