Free radicals might be significant for the brain to stay versatile

Free radicals might be significant for the brain to stay versatile


  • Post By : Kumar Jeetendra

  • Source: DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases

  • Date: 06 Dec,2020

Reactive oxygen molecules, also known as”free radicals”, are generally considered dangerous. Researchers from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) at TU Dresden published the findings in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The researchers focused on the”hippocampus”, a brain region that is regarded as the control center for learning and memory. New nerve cells are created lifelong, even in adulthood.

This so-called adult neurogenesis helps the brain to adapt and change throughout life. It happens not only in mice, but also in humans.”

Prof. Gerd Kempermann, speaker of the DZNE’s Dresden site and research group leader at the CRTD

A trigger for neurogenesis
“These precursor cells are an important foundation for neuroplasticity, and that’s the way we call the brain’s ability to adapt,” says the Dresden scientist. Together with colleagues he has now gained new insights into the processes underlying the formation of new nerve cells. The team managed to show in mice that neural stem cells, in comparison to adult nerve cells, contain a high amount of free radicals.

“This is especially true when the stem cells are in a dormant state, which means that they do not divide and don’t grow into nerve cells,” says Prof. Kempermann. Current study indicates that an increase in the concentration of the radicals makes the stem cells ready to divide. “The oxygen molecules behave like a switch that sets neurogenesis in movement.”

Free radicals are waste products of normal metabolism. Cellular mechanisms are usually set up to be certain they do not pile up. This is because the reactive oxygen molecules trigger oxidative stress.

“Too much of oxidative stress is known to be unfavorable. It can cause nerve damage and trigger aging processes,” explains Prof. Kempermann. “But obviously this is just one aspect and there is also a good side to free radicals. There are indications of this in other contexts. But what is new and surprising is how the stem cells in our brains not only endure such extremely significant levels of radicals, but also use them for their function.”

Healthy aging
Radical scavengers, also called”antioxidants”, counteract oxidative stress. Such substances are therefore considered important components of a healthful diet. They can be found in fruits and vegetables. “The positive impact of antioxidants has been demonstrated and isn’t contested by our study. We should also be careful with drawing conclusions for humans based on laboratory studies,” emphasizes Kempermann. “And yet our results at least suggest that free radicals aren’t fundamentally bad for the mind. In fact, they are probably important for the brain to stay adaptable throughout life and to age in a healthy way.”

Journal reference:

Adusumilli, V.S., et al. (2020) ROS Dynamics Delineate Functional States of Hippocampal Neural Stem Cells and Link to Their Activity-Dependent Exit from Quiescence. Cell Stem Cell.

About Author