Just a generation ago, common wisdom held that once a person reaches adulthood, the brain stops producing new nerve cells. Scientists countered that depressing prospect 20 years ago with signs that a grown-up brain can in fact replenish itself. The implications were huge: Maybe that process would offer a way to fight disorders such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
This year, though, several pieces of contradictory evidence surfaced and a heated debate once again flared up. Today, we still don’t know whether the fully grown brain churns out new nerve cells.
This year’s opening shot came March 7 in a controversial report in Nature. Contradicting several landmark findings that had convinced the scientific community that adults can make new nerve cells, researchers described an utter lack of dividing nerve cells, or neurons, in adult postmortem brain tissue (SN Online: 3/8/18). A return volley came a month later, when a different research group described loads of newborn neurons in postmortem brains, in an April 5 paper in Cell Stem Cell (SN: 5/12/18, p. 10). Scientific whiplash ensued when a third group found no new neurons in postmortem brains, describing the results in the July Cerebral Cortex. Still more neuroscientists jumped into the fray with commentaries and perspective articles.
This ping-ponging over the rejuvenating powers of the brain is the most recent iteration of a question that still hasn’t been answered. [Continue reading…]