Activated neurons in the hippocampus. Image by Jana Vukovic

A recent study has identified precisely when new neurons become important for learning.

Lead researcher Dr Jana Vukovic said the study highlighted the contribution of neurons of different ages to different behaviours.

“New neurons are continually produced in the brain, passing through a number of developmental stages before becoming fully mature,” Dr Vukovic said.

The study assessed the role of new neurons born in a region of the brain known as the hippocampus.

“When we used a genetic technique to delete immature neurons in animal models, we found they had great difficulty learning a new spatial task.

“The new neurons appear particularly important for the brain to detect subtle but critical differences in the environment that can impact on the individual.”

The study, performed in QBI Director Professor Perry Bartlett’s laboratory, also demonstrates that these immature neurons, although required for learning, are not needed for memory retrieval.

“On the other hand, if the animals needed to remember a task they had already mastered in the past, before these immature neurons were deleted, their ability to perform the task was the same – so, they’ve remembered the task they learned earlier,” Dr Vukovic said.

This research allows for better understanding of the processes underlying learning and memory formation.