I’ve just had a 2-hour long conversation with ChatGPT about Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a genetic neuromuscular disorder.
Despite ChatGPT still being convinced that Survival Motor Neuron (SMN) proteins are nothing like the yellow and purple Minions from the cartoon “Despicable Me”, in my search for treatment ideas I was able receive a list for types of activity that promote neurogenesis in the hippocampus—which plays nicely into my expertise in the field of psychomotor learning, somatic education and Feldenkrais.
However, concerning improvements to the spinal cord, my conversation with ChatGPT did not yield positive results:
While much of the research on neurogenesis has focused on regions like the hippocampus in the brain, the concept of neurogenesis occurring in the spinal cord is a topic of ongoing investigation and debate. The spinal cord is primarily associated with transmitting sensory and motor signals between the brain and the rest of the body. Unlike the hippocampus, it doesn’t exhibit the same degree of ongoing neurogenesis. [..] The challenges of promoting significant neurogenesis in the spinal cord are substantial.
However, despite treatment pathways that rely on biomedical engineering and pharmaceutical options, there might also be activity-dependent plasticity of the spinal cord. I now copy/paste the list I got for neurogenesis in the hippocampus, for your reference:
Yes, engaging in new activities such as playing a sport or learning a musical instrument can indeed stimulate neurogenesis and enhance brain plasticity. Neurogenesis refers to the process of generating new neurons (nerve cells) in the brain, particularly in regions such as the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory. While the extent of neurogenesis in humans is still an area of active research, studies suggest that certain activities can promote the creation of new neurons and the strengthening of neural connections.
Here’s how engaging in new activities and movement can lead to neurogenesis and enhanced brain plasticity:
- Learning and Novelty: Activities that challenge your brain stimulate neural pathways that might not have been heavily used before, leading to increased neural activity and the potential for the creation of new neurons.
- Complex Movements: Engaging in activities that involve complex movements, fine motor control, and coordination can activate multiple brain regions simultaneously. This coordinated activation can promote the growth of new connections between neurons and strengthen existing ones.
- Physical Activity: Physical movement and exercise have been linked to increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth, survival, and differentiation of neurons. Higher BDNF levels are associated with improved cognitive function, mood regulation, and enhanced brain plasticity.
- Stress and Adaptation: Challenging activities and learning new skills can initially induce stress on the brain. In response to this stress, the brain adapts by generating new neurons and optimizing neural circuits to handle the demands of the new activity more efficiently.
- Practice and Repetition: As you practice and refine your skills in a new activity, your brain strengthens the neural pathways associated with that activity. This process involves synaptic plasticity, where existing connections between neurons are modified and strengthened through repeated use.
- Mind-Body Connection: Activities that require a strong mind-body connection can lead to changes in brain structure and connectivity. The brain regions responsible for motor control, sensory processing, and coordination become more interconnected and specialized.
It’s important to note that the benefits of neurogenesis and enhanced brain plasticity are not solely limited to movement-related activities. Engaging in a variety of cognitive, social, and physical challenges can collectively contribute to brain health and cognitive function throughout life.
In summary, new and challenging activities that involve movement can indeed stimulate neurogenesis and promote brain plasticity. The brain’s ability to adapt and rewire itself in response to novel experiences is a remarkable aspect of human biology that supports lifelong learning and skill development.