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A Pill For ‘Brain Youth’?

Imagine a pill that could rewire your brain. Would make your brain young again. Able to learn and absorb like a five-year old. Music. Languages. Would you take it?

An imagine of the human brain. New research into brain plasticity suggests that a generic pill could change the brain's ability to absorb and retain new skills, like language, music and more. (Creative Commons / FlamePhoenix1991)

An imagine of the human brain. New research into brain plasticity suggests that a generic pill could change the brain’s ability to absorb and retain new skills, like language, music and more. (Creative Commons / FlamePhoenix1991)

The brains of children are magnificently flexible, adaptable.  They are super-sponges for learning.  They have a sublime plasticity.  And then we age.  And our brains lose that plasticity.  Become more rigid.  Learning, adapting, becomes tougher.  But what if you could take a pill that took your brain back to that childlike state?  Wide open to learning Swahili or Mandarin or perfect pitch.  Would you do it?  A new study says it may be possible.  A pill to learn a skill.  But what if it unbuckled your whole personality too?  Like a child’s?  This hour On Point:  thinking about a pill to make the brain young again.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guest

Takao Hensch, professor of molecular and cellular biology and professor of neurology in Harvard University’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Allan Young, psychopharmacologist and director of the Centre for Affective Disorders at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry.

From Tom’s Reading List

Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience: Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch — “Absolute pitch, the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a sound without a reference point, has a critical period, i.e., it can only be acquired early in life. However, research has shown that histone-deacetylase inhibitors (HDAC inhibitors) enable adult mice to establish perceptual preferences that are otherwise impossible to acquire after youth. In humans, we found that adult men who took valproate (VPA) (a HDAC inhibitor) learned to identify pitch significantly better than those taking placebo—evidence that VPA facilitated critical-period learning in the adult human brain.”

New Scientist: Learning drugs reawaken grown-up brain’s inner child –“From bilingualism to sporting prowess, many abilities rely on neural circuits that are laid down by our early experiences. Until the age of 7 or so, the brain goes through several “critical periods” during which it can be radically changed by the environment. During these times, the brain is said to have increased plasticity.”

Discover: “Plasticity Pill” Could Rewire Brain to Treat Autism and Schizophrenia — “Today, a growing number of researchers are examining the complex ways in which immune molecules affect the brain and nervous system. Manipulating such molecules, these scientists believe, may be key to treating many devastating neurological ailments, from autism and schizophrenia to Alzheimer’s and ALS. Shatz even dreams of a ‘plasticity pill’ to restore the neural suppleness of stroke victims — and her latest experiments offer hope that it could someday come to pass. “

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