The dentate gyrus is a major site of plasticity in the adult brain, giving rise to thousands of new neurons every day, through the process of adult neurogenesis. Although the majority of these cells die within two weeks of their birth, they can be rescued from death by various forms of learning. Successful acquisition of select types of associative and spatial memories increases the number of these cells that survive. Here, we investigated the possibility that an entirely different form of learning, physical skill learning, could rescue new hippocampal cells from death. To test this possibility, rats were trained with a physically-demanding and technically-difficult version of a rotarod procedure. Acquisition of the physical skill greatly increased the number of new hippocampal cells that survived. The number of surviving cells positively correlated with performance on the task. Only animals that successfully mastered the task retained the cells that would have otherwise died. Animals that failed to learn, and those that did not learn well did not retain any more cells than those that were untrained. Importantly, acute voluntary exercise in activity wheels did not increase the number of surviving cells. These data suggest that acquisition of a physical skill can increase the number of surviving hippocampal cells. Moreover, learning an easier version of the task did not increase cell survival. These results are consistent with previous reports revealing that learning only rescues new neurons from death when acquisition is sufficiently difficult to achieve. Finally, complete hippocampal lesions did not disrupt acquisition of this physical skill. Therefore, physical skill training that does not depend on the hippocampus can effectively increase the number of surviving cells in the adult hippocampus, the vast majority of which become mature neurons.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)