Researchers ‘brain work’ published

In a first for Queens College, two neuroscience researchers at the Flushing school have published a paper in the prestigious weekly Journal of Neuroscience - citing findings that may lead to new ways of treating neurological disorders or injuries.
Professor Dr. Joshua Brumberg and graduate student Mary Rocco-Donovan of the City University of New York (CUNY) school share credit with three researchers from the Department of Neurobiology at Yale University’s School of Medicine and State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University.
Their report is entitled “Sensory Deprivation Alters Aggrecan and Perineuronal Net Expression in the Mouse Barrel Cortex,” and furthers answers on the question “How does the sensory environment impact the brain’s development?” said Brumberg, which is a “big issue in childhood development.”
The experiment was considered by Brumberg and Dr. Russell Matthews of SUNY Upstate Medical University at a 2003 conference. Their initial experiment involved vision, but quickly turned to the sense of touch, and the researchers initiated the experiment at Queens College in the winter of 2004.
The article went through several revisions before it was finally accepted by the esteemed weekly on April 11 of this year and published on May 16, Brumberg said.
The researchers’ experiment tested the effects of sensory deprivation on the mouse brain, and discovered that trimming the whiskers of mice - which are as sensitive as a human’s fingertips - every other day during the first 30 days of life decreases the amount of a certain protein in the tissue around the area of the brain that handles sensory perception, explained Brumberg.
Because of this protein depletion, said Brumberg, the animals lost some of their sensory perception, and did not perform as well on simple tests, like being able to tell the difference between rough and smooth.
“The nerve activities of the cells were also altered,” he explained. The effects on the mice were lasting, even after allowing whiskers to grow out; the amount of sensory deprivation did not change, he explained.
Mice whose whiskers were clipped after that 30-day window showed no change in sensory perception.
“It has long been known that the brain can undergo changes in response to the sensory environment,” said Rocco-Donovan. In addition, for certain systems in the brain, there is a window of time - “the critical period” - where environmental changes will have a lasting impact on the brain.
Early development is a critical period, Rocco-Donovan explained, and once it has passed, the opportunity for changes in cells and in the brain “usually no longer exists, at least not to the same extent,” she said.
Plasticity, the basic ability of the brain to learn and adapt, “can play an important role in the development of the brain and in recovery from brain injury,” Rocco-Donovan continued.
Understanding what in the central nervous system causes this ability to be present or absent may one day help to promote more efficient and effective recovery from brain injuries in adults, the researchers explained.

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