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Be like songbirds- “new neurones until we drop” – Neuroscience Nugget No. 10

By David Butler Neuroscience Nuggets 28 Aug 2014

A little over a decade ago, the scientific consensus was that no new neurones grew after early postnatal development. New neurones were thought to stuff up and disrupt existing circuitry so we didn’t need them. This is not correct. Beginning in the 60’s, forgotten til the 90s and fostered by new research technology, we now know that neural stem cells generate new neurones in adult rats, primates and humans. We know that songbirds remodel substantial parts of their brain associated with vocalisation every year.

These neurones are new neurones, not replacements neurones, they are more excitable than older neurones, and they indulge in competitive plasticity for a place in circuitry associated with cognitions and emotions.   Human research is scant but evolving and we know that neurogenesis is restricted to certain brain areas . Stress is known to downregulate neurogenesis and exercise and environmental enrichment are known to enhance it.

Wow, this science is exciting and contains much healthy narrative (especially as I am getting much older!). This nugget is all part of the story of the everchanging brain. New neurones every day, neurones linked to cognitions and emotions, the potential to enhance them and grow more with exercise and enriched activity. What a powerful stimulus for behaviour change and to challenge ageism!!

“We can be like songbirds” can be a story that every older person should hear.

-David Butler

David Butler will be in Queensland, Australia, for Explain Pain and Graded Motor Imagery courses in September 2014. Find all the details at the noigroup courses page, but be quick – places are filling up fast.


Jessberger S, Gage FH 2014

Saaltink D-J, Vreugdenhil, E. 2014 Cell Mol Life Sci 71:2499


“Neuroscience nuggets”

Neuroscience nuggets are information nuggets – pieces of biological information based on statement or metaphor that can be used as educational analgesia, explicit education or part of overall story telling. We have collected over 100 of these for a book and will release one or two a week with a short description and references if appropriate.


If you can’t make it to beuatiful Brisband or the glorious Gold Coast in September you can still get your think on and immerse yourself in some brainy books with Explain Pain 2nd Ed and The Graded Motor Imagery Handbook


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