Episode 161

We’ve all heard of miraculous recoveries from traumatic brain injuries or stroke.  And we’re fascinated by the science behind brain tissue regeneration.

This week we’re joined by Dr. Thomas Carmichael, professor of neurology at UCLA, to discuss brain repair and tissue recovery.

Age Matters

One key in how the brain responds to injury is age.  Children under 2 are able to sustain substantial brain juries and make a complete recovery.  In fact, young children with severe epilepsy sometimes get a hemispherectomy, where one entire half of the brain is removed, and by middle school are honor students.

Things start changing around the two-year mark.  For children between 2 and 6, the brain is still resilient, but not quite as much as before.  These children will still have a very good outcome despite serious brain injury, but the recovery isn’t 100%.

From age 6 until your late teens, brain recovery is still good, although not as great as at younger ages.  The ability of your brain to recover from trauma plateaus from late teens into middle age, but then begins declining again in old age.

There’s no set age when this happens, but the change is hardwired into our brains at the molecular level.  The way the aged brain responds to damage and repair is substantially different than the way younger brains respond.  So what’s the difference?

Enter:  GDF10

Dr. Carmichael’s research has focused in part on identifying this regeneration transcriptome. He wanted to know what’s happening with neurons that are stimulated to form new connections after a stroke.

That line of inquiry led him to GDF10 — Growth differentiation factor 10 — which had no known role in the adult brain.

It turns out that GDF10 is a signal for functional recovery after stroke.  When you have a stroke, areas of the brain are completely deprived of blood and die off.  Those dead areas are gone, but the surrounding area survives, albeit damaged.  GDF10 is what tells the brain to repair those areas.

For the full run down on GDF10, listen to episode 161!

Episode Highlights

0:22Neural Recovery
1:48This Week in Neuroscience: Hearing ‘Meaningful’ Sounds Decreases Performance on Cognitive Tasks
4:36The audience interaction section
6:43Introduction to Dr. Thomas Carmichael
8:05Dr. Carmichael’s interest in brain repair
8:52Brain injury and age
10:46Growth differentiation factor 10 (GDF10)
13:39How does the brain know a stroke has happened?
16:00What is the difference between a stroke and a traumatic brain injury?
16:52Learning versus injury recovery
18:41Is there such a thing as too much GDF10?
19:40How long is GDF10 in the body?
20:59What the body needs to help axonal sprouting take place
23:30Studies Dr. Carmichael would like to see done
25:32Ruthless Listener-Retention Gimmick: The Bigger the Brain the Longer the Yawn

PS:  If you like what you just heard, you’ll probably love our weekly Brain Breakfast emails.

Written by Hannah Sabih
Hannah believes there's nothing 8 hours of sleep and some kale can't cure (yes, she's from California). She's an avid runner, reader, and traveler, who brings you the latest and greatest in neuroscience via our social media channels.
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