Is Neuroplasticity A Genetic Change?
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize
itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.
This plasticity enables the brain to compensate for injury
and disease and to adjust its activities in response to new experiences.
Scientists have long debated whether neuroplasticity is primarily due to changes
in gene expression or changes in the connections between neurons. Now,
researchers at the University of California, Irvine have found that a key regulator
of neuroplasticity is indeed a genetic change.
The study, published in the journal Science, examined the activity of a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) in mice. BDNF is known to be important for neuroplasticity, but the mechanism by which it works was not clear.
The UCI team found that BDNF regulates neuroplasticity by promoting the growth of new synapses, or connections between neurons. This synaptic growth is mediated by a change in the expression of a gene called ephrin-B2.
The findings suggest that BDNF-induced synaptic growth is a crucial mechanism for neuroplasticity and could be targeted for therapeutic interventions in neurodegenerative diseases and other conditions characterized by loss of synaptic connectivity.