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Youthful Brain With A Flip Of A Molecular Switch

The flip of a single molecular switch helps create the mature neuronal connections that allow the brain to bridge the gap between adolescent impressionability and adult stability. Now Yale School of Medicine researchers have reversed the process, recreating a youthful brain that facilitated both learning and healing in the adult mouse.

By monitoring the synapses in living mice over weeks and months, Yale researchers have identified the key genetic switch for brain maturation a study released March 6 in the journal Neuron. The Nogo Receptor 1 gene is required to suppress high levels of plasticity in the adolescent brain and create the relatively quiescent levels of plasticity in adulthood. In mice without this gene, juvenile levels of brain plasticity persist throughout adulthood. When researchers blocked the function of this gene in old mice, they reset the old brain to adolescent levels of plasticity.

“These are the molecules the brain needs for the transition from adolescence to adulthood,” said Dr. Stephen Strittmatter. Vincent Coates Professor of Neurology, Professor of Neurobiology and senior author of the paper. “It suggests we can turn back the clock in the adult brain and recover from trauma the way kids recover.”

Readers of Analog recall the "Kitten" series by Jeffrey D. Kooistra; "Puff" [Analog, December 1993], "Fluffy" [Analog, June 1996], and "Snowball" [Analog, July 1996].

The plot: scientist invents cat that never ages beyond being a kitten. Never-ending kitten-itude leads to constant learning at a high rate leads to hyperintelligent kittens leads to murder.

Via Yale; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip on the story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/27/2013)

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