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Lumosity for your future offspring?

Posted Feb 04 2009 12:38am

Could the brain training you do today help the memory of your children - even before conception? Research published today suggests that - surprisingly - this might actually be possible.

A study of brain function in mice reveals that a stimulating environment improves the memory of their offspring. If this improvement also occurs in humans, a mother’s youthful experiences may help shape her childrens’ ability to learn. Here’s the press release, with the paper reference below the fold:

Newswise — A study reveals that the severity of learning disorders may
depend not only on the child’s environment but also – remarkably – on
the mother’s environment when she was young. The study in
memory-deficient mice, published in the February 4 issue of The
Journal of Neuroscience, was led by Larry Feig, PhD, professor of
biochemistry at Tufts University School of Medicine and member of the
biochemistry and neuroscience programs at the Sackler School of
Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University.

The researchers studied the brain function of pre-adolescent mice with
a genetically-created defect in memory. When these young mice were
enriched by exposure to a stimulating environment – including novel
objects, opportunities for social interaction and voluntary exercise –
for two weeks, the memory defect was reversed. The work showed that
this enhancement was remarkably long-lasting because it was passed on
to the offspring even though the offspring had the same genetic
mutation and were never exposed to an enriched environment.

Previous research has shown that environmental exposures during
pregnancy can affect offspring. “A striking feature of this study is
that enrichment took place during pre-adolescence, months before the
mice were even fertile, yet the effect reached into the next
generation,” said Feig.

“The offsprings’ improved memory was not the result of better
nurturing by mothers who were enriched when they were young. When the
offspring were raised by non-enriched foster mothers, the offspring
maintained the beneficial effect,” said co-author Junko Arai, PhD,
postdoctoral associate in Feig’s laboratory.

“The effect lasted until adolescence, when it waned, suggesting that
this process is designed specifically to aid the young brain,”
continued Shaomin Li, PhD, MD, co-author, former postdoctoral
associate in Feig’s laboratory, now at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“This example of ‘inheritance of acquired characters,’ was first
proposed by Lamarck in the early 1800s. However, it is incompatible
with classical Mendelian genetics, which states that we inherit
qualities from our parents through specific DNA sequences they
inherited from their parents. We now refer to this type of inheritance
as epigenetics, which involves environmentally-induced changes in the
structure of DNA and the chromosomes in which DNA resides that are
passed on to offspring,” said Feig.

Previous research by Feig and his team showed that a relatively brief
exposure to an enriched environment in both normal and
memory-deficient mice unlocks an otherwise latent biochemical control
mechanism that enhances a cellular process in nerve cells called
long-term potentiation (LTP), which is known to be involved in
learning and memory. This enhancement was detected in pre-adolescent
mice but not in adult mice, reflecting the brain’s higher plasticity
in the young.

Feig concluded that the transgenerational inheritance of the effect of
an enriched environment may be a mechanism that has evolved to protect
one’s offspring from deleterious effects of sensory deprivation, which
may be particularly potent in the young and exacerbated in the
learning disabled.

Junko Arai and Shaomin Li, first authors, contributed equally to the
paper. Dean M. Hartley, PhD, of Rush University Medical Center is also
an author.

The work was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the
National Institutes of Health because these findings were derived as
an offshoot of the Feig lab’s long-term experience working on Ras
proteins that are involved in cancer. Fundamental principles of how
Ras proteins function gained by studying its role in cancer expedited
subsequent studies on Ras function in the brain. This work highlights
how major breakthroughs can arise by allowing researches to follow new
leads that cross disciplines. The work was also supported by the Tufts
Center for Neuroscience Research.

Arai J, Li S, Hartley DM, and Feig LA. The Journal of Neuroscience.
2009. (February 4); 29(5): 1496-1502. “Transgenerational Rescue of a
Genetic Defect in Long-Term Potentiation and Memory Formation by
Juvenile Enrichment.” Published online February 3, 2009, doi:
10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5057-08.2009

About Tufts University School of Medicine
Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate
Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University are international leaders in
innovative medical education and advanced research. The School of
Medicine and the Sackler School are renowned for excellence in
education in general medicine, special combined degree programs in
business, health management, public health, bioengineering, and
international relations, as well as basic and clinical research at the
cellular and molecular level. Ranked among the top in the nation, the
School of Medicine is affiliated with six major teaching hospitals and
more than 30 health care facilities. The Sackler School undertakes
research that is consistently rated among the highest in the nation
for its impact on the advancement of medical science.

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