The Adult Brain Makes New Neurons, and Effortful Learning Keeps Them Alive

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38 Scopus citations


The brain continues to produce new neurons throughout life. For instance, the hippocampus (a brain region necessary for select learning processes) produces thousands of new neurons each day. However, a significant number of them die and do so within just a few weeks of their birth. Laboratory animals that are trained to learn a new skill between one and two weeks after the new cells are generated retain most cells that would have otherwise died. The types of skills that keep new cells alive are not limited to those that depend on the hippocampus but rather include those that are effortful to learn, requiring more training trials or time spent training. Importantly, training alone is not sufficient to increase cell survival; animals that are trained but do not learn do not retain more cells than animals that are not trained. Therefore, learning increases the survival of newly generated cells in the hippocampus as long as the learning experience is new, effortful, and successful. Once rescued, the vast majority of these cells differentiate into neurons, thereby forming synapses and generating action potentials as they become incorporated into the existing architecture and functional circuitry of the adult brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-318
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 11 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • associative learning
  • cell survival
  • classical conditioning
  • effortful learning
  • exercise
  • hippocampus
  • memory
  • neurogenesis
  • physical-skill learning
  • stem cell


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