Use it or lose it: How neurogenesis keeps the brain fit for learning

T. J. Shors, M. L. Anderson, D. M. Curlik, M. S. Nokia

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


The presence of new neurons in the adult hippocampus indicates that this structure incorporates new neurons into its circuitry and uses them for some function related to learning and/or related thought processes. Their generation depends on a variety of factors ranging from age to aerobic exercise to sexual behavior to alcohol consumption. However, most of the cells will die unless the animal engages in some kind of effortful learning experience when the cells are about one week of age. If learning does occur, the new cells become incorporated into brain circuits used for learning. In turn, some processes of learning and mental activity appear to depend on their presence. In this review, we discuss the now rather extensive literature showing that new neurons are kept alive by effortful learning, a process that involves concentration in the present moment of experience over some extended period of time. As these thought processes occur, endogenous patterns of rhythmic electrophysiological activity engage the new cells with cell networks that already exist in the hippocampus and at efferent locations. Concurrent and synchronous activity provides a mechanism whereby the new neurons become integrated with the other neurons. This integration allows the present experience to become integrated with memories from the recent past in order to learn and predict when events will occur in the near future. In this way, neurogenesis and learning interact to maintain a fit brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)450-458
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 14 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Apoptosis
  • Cell survival
  • Classical conditioning
  • Consciousness
  • Declarative memory
  • Electrophysiology
  • Eyeblink
  • Hippocampus
  • Learning
  • Neural networks
  • Neurogenesis
  • Stem cell
  • Theta rhythms


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