Neurogenesis of Mind-Body Healing

Mind-body healing involves neurogenesis, i.e. brain growth or, more technically, the growth or birth of new neurons (brain cells). Learning involves brain growth and mind-body healing is a type of learning.

For a long time scientist thought that once the brain was fully grown, no additional brain growth occurred. Then it was found that in female canaries their brains would undergo rapid growth in full grown adults during migration season.1

This, started scientists looking around for other examples of adult brain growth. Sure enough, they found it. In humans in teens we now know that the prefrontal lobe is still growing/maturing for example. But now we understand that brain growth occurs in other regions of the brain as well.

In adults new neurons are continually being generated primarily in two regions of the brain--

  • The subventricular zone lining the lateral ventricles (again we are back to deep regions in the middle of the brain). The lateral ventricles are continuous with the central canal of the spinal cord and contain cerebrospinal fluid. These newly generated cells then migrate to the olfactory bulb part of the brain.
  • The subgranular zone that is part of the dentate gyrus of hippocampus. The hippocampus functions, among other things, in memory consolidation.

While many of these newly formed neurons die, a number of them become integrated into the surrounding brain tissue. A recent study has found evidence of neurogenesis in the cerebellum of adult rabbits.2

More recent studies have shown that neurogenesis does occur in the hippocampus in mammals and humans.3,4 Neurogenesis may occur in the primate neocortex and other areas.5,6,7

From another direction, recent research has found that training and practice on working memory tasks changes the brain's biochemistry and increases the number of a specific type of dopamine receptor.8  This is a special type of brain growth.  

Neurogenesis is most active during pre-natal development, and rapidly decreases thereafter.

There are several different types of neurogenesis. One of these is especially the most prevalent in the mind-body healing process...

Types of Neurogenesis

Neurogenesis (proper)

Neurobiologists who study brain processes, anatomy, etc., usually restrict the term "neurogenesis" to the growth in the number of neurons (brain cells). We are using it here in a broader sense for brain growth in general.

Here is the problem with growing new brain cells in an "old" brain: it would mess up the myriad of interconnections (synapses) to have too much brain growth of new neurons.

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity refers to the growth or changes in the synapses, the connections between neurons. Newborns have the highest plasticity. Neuroplasticity is thought to be the primary basis for learning and memory.

Other types of neuronal growth

As indicated above in the findings on increases in dopamine receptors, neurons are dynamic, ever changing cells. Their membranes and genes respond to environmental changes doing such thing as increasing or decreasing the number of specific receptors. (Recall that each neurotransmitter has its on or several receptors, each coded by different genes. See Neurotransmitters.)

What happens during neurogenesis?

The mind-body system can be thought of as a dynamic, ever changing information superhighway. Information transduction is the name of the game.

A particular neuron-synapsis interconnection can be thought of as starting out as a small foot trail. If there is a lot of use or demand of that little trail, it grows and expands. Additional synaptal connections are generated so that even more information (nerve impulses) can travel down the trail. With continued use that trail becomes a small road. With a lot of usage, that road becomes a highway, and the highway a superhighway, etc.

This is what happens as we master information or behaviors. I used to do karate. Karate is not reflex. After a lot of practice it becomes nearly as automatic and fast as reflex however. The above is what happens. Practice makes those footpaths into highways.

Likewise when we don't use this information over a prolonged period. The synaptonemal connection decrease. Again, the brain and nervous system and body resulpture themselves to meet demands in their environment. The connections do not not cease to exist. They just become smaller than when they were used routinely.

State dependent memory and learning

The only exception to this process is in traumatic events with what is known as state-dependent memory and learning (page coming soon). In short, state-dependent memory is where we only have access to these memories or information when the "state" in which they were learned is recreated, such as high trauma/emotional events.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) works this way, for example. As do many traumatic experiences in our lives. Something will trigger these memories or behavior by recreating similar mind-body or environmental conditions. That something is similar in some way to the traumatizing event.

I work with sexually abused clients. Their healing process involves me taking them back (regressing) to the trauma, usually through hypnosis. I recreate the original trauma state. At that point healing work can be done once those events and memories are brought up. These are what are sometimes called repressed memories.

Repressed memories

Recently I was trying to work with a cognitive behavioral psychologist in NY about a patient of mine that he would soon be getting. I spoke to him a little about the PTSD memories that had come up with the patient about 9/11. He had been living just blocks away from the Towers that were struck in Manhattan. He and his family had been caught on foot trying to make it back to their apartment.

The psychologist proceeded to try to lecture me on how I was doing the wrong therapy with the patient, that is I should be using his cognitive behavioral methods, as "research" had shown that such memories were very inaccurate, etc. I managed to polite extricate myself from the call.

Let me just point out that such repressed memories can be powerful forces to bring about change and healing. The research, by the way,  that has been done has been done on normal everyday type memories, not on state-dependent memories. I hope to get a page up on Repressed Memories and go into this much further.

One of my big problems with cognitive or cognitive behavioral therapy is they are predominately left brain therapies. Last time I checked most people had a right brain too.

What stimulates neurogenesis?

Research has shown that novelty, a variable environment, and exercise all can stimulate neurogenesis (The Psychobiology of Gene Expression, 2002).

  • Novelty as in something new and different. New experiences, new people, new places, anything new and novel has been shown to stimulate neurogenesis.
  • A variable environment means one that changes, that is not the same day after day. Our minds (consciousness) is cued to the new and novel and to changes. Repetitive, constant activities is more than mind numbing, it is brain killing.
  • Exercise--I know some couch potatoes that hate this one. But getting regular exercise helps the old brain to learn and stimulates neurogenesis.

The novelty-numinosum-neurogenesis effect

Numinosum experiences refer to fascination, wonderment, mystery, and tremendousness. These include Maslow's Peak Experiences, ecstatic, enlightenment, and just plain blow-your-mind, positive experiences. Many of these are spiritual by nature. Also, by their nature, they are novel experiences. These numinosum experiences can cause rapid and substantial neurogenesis. They can be life-changing and cause major reorganization of our understanding of ourselves and our world.

Gene synthesis and neurogenesis

Behind every neurogenic event there is gene synthesis.

On the page on gene regulation, I will be discussing this in more detail. For now, I just want to say a little about what underlies all neurogenesis if not immediately, then shortly afterwards, and that is what we can call gene synthesis.

Gene synthesis

By gene synthesis I am referring to what is technically known as "gene expression". Genes code for information. For those genes that code for protein, a messenger RNA (mRNA for messenger ribonucleic acid) is first transcribed from the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in a process called transcription. These mRNA transcripts are turned into protein by a complex process called translation, as in the message is translated.

Two points here before we go further. First, not all DNA codes for protein. Some DNA code for other types of RNA, some is involved for chromosome structure, some appears to be "junk" DNA--highly repetitive short sequences that are repeated hundreds or millions of times over and over. Finally, some is involved in gene regulation. The second major point is that gene expression is regulated--and highly so. It is to this point we want to focus for neurogenesis.

Water facet analogy

Think of genes as water facets and the proteins (or RNA) that is produced from them as the water that comes out of the facet. The facet can be turned all the way off, in which case no water/protein is produced or comes out. The facet can be turned wide open, in which case the maximum amount of water/protein comes out. Or, and this is the important point, they can be anywhere in between. This ability to turn up or down gene expression is referred to as gene regulation.

Neurogenesis

In neurogenesis, genes that produce all the proteins, receptors, neurotransmitters, etc. are being turned up or down, depending on what the brain cells need.

The importance of this is that in all the interactions we have during the day, meeting people, getting up in the morning, talking, thinking, and on-and-on, our genes in the brain cells are responding to this just as the genes in the rest of our body. Gene synthesis is intimately involved in all the processes of our everyday life, learning, and healing.

References

  • 1Goldman SA, Nottebohm F (April 1983). "Neuronal production, migration, and differentiation in a vocal control nucleus of the adult female canary brain". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 80 (8): 2390–4.
  • 2Ponti G, Peretto B, Bonfanti L (2008). "Genesis of neuronal and glial progenitors in the cerebellar cortex of peripuberal and adult rabbits". PLoS ONE 3 (6): e2366.
  • 3Eriksson PS, Perfilieva E, Bj√∂rk-Eriksson T, et al (November 1998). "Neurogenesis in the adult human hippocampus". Nat Med. 4 (11): 1313–7
  • 4Gould E, Reeves AJ, Fallah M, Tanapat P, Gross CG, Fuchs E (April 1999). "Hippocampal neurogenesis in adult Old World primates". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 96 (9): 5263–7.
  • 5Gould E, Beylin A, Tanapat P, Reeves A, Shors TJ (March 1999). "Learning enhances adult neurogenesis in the hippocampal formation". Nat Neurosci. 2 (3): 260–5.
  • 6Shankle, WR, Rafii, MS, Landing, BH, and Fallon, JH (1999) Approximate doubling of the numbers of neurons in the postnatal human cortex and in 35 specific cytoarchitectonic areas from birth to 72 months. Pediatric and Developmental Pathology 2:244-259.
  • 7Zhao M, Momma S, Delfani K, et al (June 2003). "Evidence for neurogenesis in the adult mammalian substantia nigra". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 100 (13): 7925–30.
  • 8McNab, F., et al.(2009) Changes in Cortical Dopamine D1 Receptor Binding. Science 323, 800-802.

Psychobiology-Index

Neurogenesis and Healing

Addiction and the Teen Brain

The Triune Brain
Stress

State-Dependent Memory, Learning, and Behaviors and Trauma

Basic Genetics Series

Nature and Mind

  • Clinical Psychobiology