The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 18 No. 6 • October 2015


Neurogenesis, the process of creating new neurons from stem cells, includes the maturation of the new neurons in which the neurons compete with one another for survival. Incredibly, a new paper (Bian, 2015) has now reported the discovery of some details of this competition.

They studied dendritic spines (the structures that provide important biochemical and electrical compartmentalization within neurons). Neurogenesis includes rapid spinogenesis. Here, the authors explain a hypothesis that new spines (mostly thin) underlie memory acquisition, while mature spines (mostly mushroom shaped and stubby) contribute to memory consolidation and storage. The authors found through their experiments that the small proportion of new neurons that were enriched in beta catenin were the ones that survived the pruning process that follows neurogenesis, while the ones with less beta catenin died by apoptosis. Interestingly, the neurons surrounding the beta catenin-enriched survivors were most likely to die. The authors ascribe this to “local competition for limited resources.”

Environmental enrichment, known to increase neurogenesis, also (according to the authors) accelerates spine pruning. “In the PFC [prefrontal cortex] and memories are constantly formed and unconsolidated ones removed throughout life, a few synapses at a time, resulting in individualized spine dynamics and sustained circuit plasticity.” The authors also explain how enhanced or reduced expression of genes for spinogenesis can result in neurological disorders, including autism and schizophrenia. In fact, in another paper by different scientists (Yi, 2015), an autism-linked mutation was discovered (inherited maternally) that causes excessive dendritic spine development in the brain. It is interesting to note that one of the autism spectrum disorders, Asperger’s syndrome, actually shows some evidence for beneficial effects in some individuals. Though there may be deficiencies in recognizing faces, for example, there seem to be countervailing advantages such as enhanced sensory abilities (for example, the ability to recognize different colors) and possibly increased creativity. (A guy we know who has the syndrome suggests that the best game “trackers” would be Asperger’s because of superior ability to pick out the bent blades of grass and faint footmarks that you have to be able to track.) If so, this may explain why this gene hasn’t disappeared into the trash bin of evolutionarily dumped genes but has remained around, benefitting some and being a disaster for others, particularly for those who inherit two alleles for the trait rather than just one. Interestingly, Nobel Prize winners in mathematics and chess grandmasters disproportionally have the Aspberger form of autism.

But, getting back to neurogenesis, there are a number of nutrients that are known to increase neurogenesis, including resveratrol (found in red wine, cocoa, green tea), EGCG (particularly enriched in green tea), curcumin (found in turmeric root), and taurine, among many many others. Taurine, for example, has been found to increase hippocampal neurogenesis in aging mice (Gebara, 2015). “We found that taurine increased cell proliferation in the dentate gyrus through the activation of quiescent stem cells, resulting in increased number of stem cells and intermediate neural progenitors.” “Furthermore, taurine increased the survival of newborn neurons, resulting in a net increase in adult neurogenesis.” This is a very impressive benefit from ingesting adequate amounts of taurine, which is a sulfur-containing amino acid not incorporated into proteins; it is found in large amounts in the brain, but also in the liver and kidney. Its concentration in the brain decreases with aging. The fact that taurine increases the stem cell pool is particularly exciting, as the renewal of the stem cell pool is limited in adults.

  • Gebera, Udry, et al. Taurine increases hippocampal neurogenesis in aging mice. Stem Cell Res. 14:369-79 (2015).
  • Bian, Miao, et al. Coordinated spine pruning and maturation mediated by inter-spine competition for cadherin/catenin complexes. Cell. 162:808-22 (2015).
  • Yi, Berrios, Newbern, et al. An autism-linked mutation disables phosphorylation control of UBE3A. Cell. 162:795-807 (2015).

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