Principle Researcher: Diane Lee
California State University Long Beach
Research Team: Diane Lee, Seth Ramus (Bowdoin), Annie Huyler '12 (Bowdoin), Bri Vaughan (CSULB), Ricca Gardner (CSULB) and Kristn Drumheller (CSULB)
Research Abstract: To determine if repair and recover of function is possible following disease and injury, this project will study the ways in which the birth of new cells occurs in the adult brain. The hippocamus is a brain structure that mediates memory formation in both birds and mammals. It is also one of the few structures capable of "growing" new cells in adulthood-- a process called adult neurogenesis. Once considered to be impossible, adult neurogenesis is now a well-documented occurence in the brain of many birds and mammals as well as humans. One major model system in which to investigate adult neurogenesis is the study of food-storing birds. Observations of food storing birds in the wild and in captivity suggest that many of these species show seasonal peaks in food-storing behavior and are using memory to find where they have hidden their food caches. These seasonal peaks in storing and memory are coincident with a burst of stem cell activity and hippocampal neurogenesis. If the hippocampus is injured however, storers show no increase in stem cell activity even though non-storers do. Given these rather remarkable links between brain changes and behavior, several interesting questions are asked. One major question is whether season affects hippocampal neurogenesis in food storing birds only. If so, then food-storing birds may be demonstrating a selective adaptation that aids in their survival over harsh winter when food resources becomes scarce. If there are no differences between storers and non-storers, then this may be a general response of the brain seen across species, independent of their reliance upon seasonal food storing behavior. Therefore both storing and non-storing birds will need to be wild caught this spring (2010) and compared to those caught in the fall. Neurogenesis will be determined by counting the number of new cells from brain structures to determine differences between storers and non-storers, and between seasons. We expect to find that storing birds (for example chickadees and nuthatches) will show more hippocampal neurogenesis than their non-storing cohorts.