EurekAlert! reports: The adult brain continues to grow with the challenges that it faces; its changes are linked to the development of personality and behavior. But what is the link between individual experience and brain structure? Why do identical twins not resemble each other perfectly even when they grew up together? To shed light on these questions, the scientists observed forty genetically identical mice that were kept in an enclosure offering a large variety of activity and exploration options.
“The animals were not only genetically identical, they were also living in the same environment,” explains principal investigator Gerd Kempermann, Professor for Genomics of Regeneration, CRTD, and Site Speaker of the DZNE in Dresden. “However, this environment was so rich that each mouse gathered its own individual experiences in it. Over time, the animals therefore increasingly differed in their realm of experience and behavior.”
Each of the mice was equipped with a special micro-chip emitting electromagnetic signals. This allowed the scientists to construct the mice’s movement profiles and to quantify their exploratory behavior. The result: Despite a common environment and identical genes the mice showed highly individualized behavioral patterns. They reacted to their environment differently. In the course of the three-month experiment these differences increased in size.
“Though the animals shared the same life space, they increasingly differed in their activity levels. These differences were associated with differences in the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that supports learning and memory,” says Kempermann. “Animals that explored the environment to a greater degree also grew more new neurons than animals that were more passive.”
Adult neurogenesis, that is, the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, allows the brain to react to new information flexibly. With this study, the authors show for the first time that personal experiences and ensuing behavior contribute to the “individualization of the brain.” The individualization they observed cannot be reduced to differences in environment or genetic makeup.
“Adult neurogenesis also occurs in the hippocampus of humans,” says Kempermann. “Hence we assume that we have tracked down a neurobiological foundation for individuality that also applies to humans.” [Continue reading…]