Implanted neurons trigger burst of mental agility

To test a new approach to rewiring the brain, investigators at UC San Francisco transplanted fetal neurons into the brains of young mice and found that it jumpstarted a phase during which the brain could adapt to radical changes. They hope to learn more to see if the work can be used to find new ways to treat a brain injury or some other type of neurological damage.

"I would love to see if the same sort of transplant worked in older animals," Jianhua Cang, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University tells MIT Technology Review. "This work is a significant advance, but if one can do it in adult animals, it would be even more remarkable. And it opens the possibility of therapeutic potential."

The scientific team set out to see if they could recreate a period when the brain is malleable enough to deal with big changes. During this "critical period" the brain can do amazing things, such as maximize input from one good eye while disregarding the messages from a blinded eye, leaving it impaired.

The fetal neurons that were grafted into the brains of young or newly born mice appeared to trigger a second "critical period"--the first time in the experiments that had happened. For humans, this critical period comes later but lasts much longer. And if scientists could stimulate a second such stage in patients with, say, stroke damage, then the older brain might be better able to adapt to the damage and learn how to function better.

- here's the article from MIT Technology Review