Thursday, June 13, 2013

DNA in our Brain BREAK When We Learn Something New!

I certainly didn't expect to discover that in my research!

DNA Day (International DNA Day or World DNA Day) is April 25th and was first commemorated in 2003 and organized by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). It was initially meant to recognize the work of those that published the first paper on the structure of DNA back in 1953 (James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and colleagues).

First a little bit about the structure of DNA. 

DNA consists of two stands which are anti-parallel to each other which form a spiral formation linked by hydrogen bonds better known as a double-helix. (It's much more technical than that so if you are interested in learning more, start with this Wiki page

So what's the interesting thing going on with the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) in our brains? 

Well apparently when we are learning something new, during the learning activity, the DNA in our brain experiences a double-strand break (DSB)... yes our DNA breaks! Yet, after the activity, the DNA re-bonds rather quickly within a 24-hour period. Whew.

Interestingly enough, for those with Alzheimer's or similar mental illness, the break either takes longer to heal or don't heal at all.

But this double-strand break is normal folks. It's a normal part of our brain activity. DSB occurs in various parts of our brain but it is more prevalent in our Dentate Gyrus (necessary for spatial memory-used when you're learning a new physical environment like if you moved to a new city). Our Dentate Gyrus resides deep within our Hippocampus.

Though my drawing focuses in on the Dentate Gyrus area, I included some notes on what we learn as we grow up. The learning of some of these things resides in other parts of our brain, but the same DSB happens there. So I highlighted one of these DSB but note, as mentioned above, DSB occurs in various areas of the brain when we're learning something. Things on the list that do involve spatial memory include learning to drive, ride a bike and swim.

Now go break some DNA stands and keep learning! :)

Feedback is always welcome.


Michelle Hunter

Contemporary Artist
Tel: (646) 504-5034


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