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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Faculty Member Hopes Study Leads to Therapy for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's Diseases

Study by Rachel Cohen and colleagues has implications for potential therapies in neurodegenerative disorders.

2016-09-29
Minnesota State University, Mankato Media Relations Office News Release, 9-29-2016

NOTE: In the photo at right provided by Rachel Cohen, the arrow points to a new neuron in a bird's brain.

Mankato, Minn. –Minnesota State University, Mankato faculty member Rachel Cohen, an assistant professor in the University’s Department of Biological Sciences, and three colleagues have completed a study that Cohen says has implications for potential therapies in neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases.

The study, titled “Adult neurogenesis leads to the functional reconstruction of a telencephalic neural circuit,” found that newly born neurons in the brain are used to reconstruct the song-production circuit in songbirds.

According to Cohen, during the breeding season, male birds sing the same song repeatedly to attract a mate. Previous research showed that, in each breeding season, new neurons are added to the brain circuit that controls song behavior, but it was unclear whether these new neurons actually integrated into the circuit. The study by Cohen and colleagues demonstrated that the new neurons are actually connecting to the song circuit, and that as new neurons are increasingly added to this circuit, the less variation there is in the song.

Cohen explained that in neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases, neurons in the brain die off, and it is difficult to reconstruct their connections. However, Cohen says, if it can be determined how the new neurons in a bird “know” how to recreate connections, it will be possible to start discovering potential therapies to treat such disorders.

A scientific paper about the study by Cohen and colleagues was recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, a top neuroscience research journal. An abstract is available at http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/34/8947.

For more information, please contact Rachel Cohen, assistant professor in Minnesota State Mankato’s Department of Biological Sciences, by phone at 507-389-1256 or by email at rachel.cohen@mnsu.edu.

Minnesota State Mankato’s Department of Biological Sciences is part of the University’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology.

Minnesota State Mankato, a comprehensive university with 15,193 students, is part of the Minnesota State system, which comprises 31 state institutions.

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