Neural Stem Cells
Amelia J. Eisch, UT Southwestern Medical Center

One of the greatest mysteries about the brain is how it can continually adapt and respond to environmental and physiological stimuli, an ability that neuroscientists refer to as “neuroplasticity”. There are many kinds of neuroplasticity, including physical sprouting of new processes; the regulation of gene and protein expression; and the modification of electrical communication among brain cells. All of these types of neuroplasticity have at some point been proposed to contribute to fundamental brain functions like learning and memory, and thus have been the target of intense research to try to understand the brain and perhaps repair the injured or diseased brain. However, one of the most earth-shattering discoveries made in neuroscience in the past century was a novel form of plasticity in the adult brain: neurogenesis. Long considered restricted to the embryonic or early postnatal period, the birth of new neurons is now known to occur throughout life in mammals, including humans. The putative source of these new neurons - neural stem cells - is the focus of this session. I will provide brief historical, anatomical, technical, evolutionary, and computational perspectives on neural stem cells and the birth of new neurons in adult brain. I will also lay the groundwork for the talks by Daniel Lim and Maura Boldrini by providing an overview of current theories about “what adult neurogenesis is good for” and “what is good for neurogenesis”, and hopefully inspire discussion of transdisciplinary ways we might attempt to understand the birth of new neurons in old brains.

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