The hippocampus is a region of the brain that plays an important role in memory and learning. The birth of new neurons in adulthood may have important behavioural and cognitive consequences.

"New neurons may serve as a means to fine-tune the hippocampus to the predicted environment," said Maya Opendak of Princeton University. Stress-induced suppression of adult neurogenesis has been linked with impaired performance on hippocampus-dependent cognitive tasks.

On the other hand, rewarding experiences are associated with reduced anxiety-like behaviour and improved performance on cognitive tasks involving the hippocampus.

Maya Opendak and Elizabeth Gould of Princeton University synthesise the vast literature on this topic, reviewing environmental factors that influence the birth of new neurons in the adult.

The authors discussed how the birth of such neurons may help animals and humans adapt to their current environment and circumstances in a complex and changing world. Stressful experiences, such as restraint, social defeat, exposure to predator odours have been shown to decrease the number of new neurons in the hippocampus.

"Taking findings from laboratory animals to the next level by exploring complex social interactions in settings that maximise individual variability, a hallmark of the human experience, is likely to be especially illuminating," Gould concluded.

The study appeared in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.


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