Too old to learn a new language? Maybe not, hints new research

Memphis, Tennessee, June 29, 2017

Noah Roy, Ph.D., and Jay Blundon, Ph.D.

(from left) Noah Roy, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate in Dr. Zakharenko's lab, and first author Jay Blundon, Ph.D., an associate scientist in Dr. Zakharenko's lab.

Imagine being able to learn a new language as easily as an infant or toddler can. How about learning a musical instrument? St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists have discovered how one day that may be possible.

The approach involves limiting the activity of a chemical messenger in a key part of the brain. That messenger is adenosine. When researchers reduced or limited adenosine’s activity in a certain brain region, mice could learn from sound much later in life.

“The findings offer a promising strategy to extend the same window for auditory learning in humans,” said Stanislav Zakharenko, MD, PhD, of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology. That strategy might involve developing drugs to block adenosine’s activity.

The research appeared in the journal Science.

Read the news release.

Neural activity in the auditory cortex

This video captures the activity of neurons in the auditory cortex of awake mice listening to tones being played. Each flash of light signals a neuron firing. Scientists used a special two-photon microscope to image the activity of these neurons, which are almost 0.5 millimeter deep within the brain.

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