Scientists have discovered that not only does your brain go through growth spurts; it also goes though periods of pruning. This ScienCentral News video has more.
What goes on in your brain while your're learning? Two scientists offer a sneak peak underneath our thinking caps.
In the brain, nerve cells, or neurons, grow new connections, which resemble branches on a tree. These branches send and receive signals, and their growth is vital to normal brain function; the more branches there are, the more sites by which a neuron can send and receive information.
"While you're an adult, your brain doesn't just stop growing and doesn't just stop making new connections. It actually forms new connections all the time," says Bonnie Firestein, professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University. "We know that when you're learning something, you have new connections made. So, the brain is constantly growing and constantly changing."
Firestein has found that a brain chemical called cypin helps nerve cells sprout new branches of communication, and the more cypin you have, the more branches you have. "We know that if you decrease cypin, in our system, you have a lower amount of branches," she explains. "So, right now…we just know that cypin is really important for making the correct number of branches, and that if you increase cypin you get more branches, and that it's been shown that more branches generally corresponds to learning and memory. When you're learning, you're making the nerve cells active, you're having increases in cypin, and then you're having more branches or more wiring so that you can learn."