Environment has been found to have a lot to do with evolution and the ability of the species to adapt to their changing surroundings. Through the centuries, some animals who once swam are now able to walk on land; some who lived on land have been able to adapt to water; some who walked on knuckles have been able to walk upright; and others have not changed at all because their bodies are able to accommodate the environmental changes without any physical disruptions.

Scientists believe that, over time, animals in the wild develop their motor and sensory skills by creating new connection in their brain. They have also found that their environment has a lot to do with these developmental changes. The term they give to this process is “environmental enrichment.” They have also studied, in great detail, to see if the human brain operates in the same way, and if their environment factors into the making of new brain connections that can enhance learning and increase memory.

An experimental study published in Neuron shows an experimental procedure using adult mice. The protein B-Adducin was injected into half of their research mice by a team at Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland.  B-Adducin, is believe to be important in the regulation of plasticity and memory, has been shown in previous research to accelerate learning in some mice.  Â

The ability of connections between two neurons to change in strength in response to communication over brain pathways is called synaptic plasticity. Synaptic plasticity has been found to be dependent upon calcium. This plasticity comes from the changing of the number of receptors in a synapse, and how effectively cells respond to those neurotransmitters. Due to the assumption by neuroscientists that our memories are formed through a large, interconnected networks of synapses in the brain, the process of synaptic plasticity is one of the important neurochemical foundations for enriched learning and memory.Â

In the Freidrich Miescher Institute study, both sets of mice were subjected to environmental enrichment. The results indicated that all of the mice injected with B-Adducin showed significant learning after enrichment, and it was evident both in changes in anatomy and the addition of new synapse.  None of the control mice – those not subjected to B-Adducin – showed any additional learning after enrichment.

“It had seemed likely that the powerful behavioral consequences of environmental enrichment involve enhanced Synaptogenesis, but testing this hypothesis has been prevented by the absence of tools to specifically interfere with Synaptogenesis processes in the adult,” explains senior study author, Dr. Pico Caroni from Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland. “In our study, we introduced a mouse model with a specific deficit in the assembly of synapses under conditions of enhanced plasticity in the adult and exploited the model to investigate a role for enhanced Synaptogenesis in learning and memory associated with environmental enrichment.”

Scientists believe that by putting together new synapses it opens up the brain to new learning. They still do not understand, however, how the roles of the Synaptogenesis processes in memory is associated with the putting together of new synapses,

In the above study the researchers found that the mice deficient in β-Adducin were not able to form new synapses upon enhanced plasticity, and showed declining long-term hippocampus memory – even after they received environmental enrichment. The mice that received the injections of β-Adducin formed new synapses after environmental enrichment, and indicated they had enhanced their memory and learning abilities.

The conclusion would seem to indicate that the brain needs both β-Adducin and new synapses in order to enrich the brain enough to establish long -term learning and memory, long with environmental enrichment.

According to Dr. Caroni. “Future studies will aim at elucidating how experience enhances synapse turnover and Synaptogenesis, how this potentates memory processes, and how impairment of these processes may produce memory loss in disease.”

Scientists will now try to study this further by focusing on different kinds of environmental experiences and their relation to the building and tearing down of the synapses associated with the processing of learning and memory.




About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at BrainAthlete.com.



Memoryzine.com – Neuroplasticity Model Found for Synapse Enrichment in Memory and Learning: http://memoryzine.com/2011/05/20/neuroplasticity-model-found-for-synapse-enrichment-in-memory-and-learning/

Wikipedia – Synaptogenesis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synaptogenesis; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasticity;  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synaptic_plasticity;

Science Daily – New Insight Into How Environmental Enrichment Enhances Memory (3/24/2011); http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110323135627.htm

PubMed.gov – β-Adducin is required for stable assembly of new synapses and improved memory upon environmental enrichment: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=b-Adducin%20is%20required%20for%20stable%20assembly%20of%20new%20synapses%20and%20improved%20memory%20upon%20environmental%20enrichment.