Neuron Replacement: Improved Cognitive Function

How receptive is the adult neocortex to incorporating new projection neurons?
2013 Scientific Innovations Award
Jean M. Hébert, Ph.D.
Department of Neuroscience
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

The neocortex is the part of our brains that we use for our highest cognitive functions. The main neurons of the neocortex can be lost due to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer disease and ALS or insults such as stroke or trauma. Once lost, these neurons are not replaced, leading to permament functional deficits. Developing strategies to replace these lost neurons is a daunting task because of the complexity and size of the neocortex. Previous attempts at replacing neurons in the neocortex using several types of transplanted neural stem cells have failed. An initial reason for these failures is the inability of the transplanted cells to disperse throughout the neocortical tissue. The goal of Dr.Hébert’s research is to develop an approach for introducing new, widely dispersed, neurons in the adult neocortex, providing a paradigm for testing whether they can functionally integrate and whether they can eventually provide the substrate for improved cognitive function.