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Billions of brain cells die during puberty to boost cognitive performance
Puberty, that is to say strictly the developmental physiological course of sexual maturation, is characterized by a hormonal change in boys and girls with the aim of reproductive ability. Billions of cells in the brain die during this adolescence phase, according to a new study by the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt am Main. Only what is needed "solidifies", explains the researcher for neurosciences and study director, Prof. Peter Uhlhaas, to the news journal "Focus". People have the highest number of synapses during the late stages of childhood, the neuroscientist explained. The death of the brain cells does not produce any negative effects, but actually favors the further level of cognitive development. The cells then work in a more structured manner.
The number of brain cells is significantly reduced
When childhood is over, an extraordinarily high number of nerve and brain cells is a thing of the past. While external features such as pimples or mood swings during puberty are troublesome for young people, far-reaching changes take place in the brain. During the adolescent high phase between the ages of 15 and 17 years, the communication between the different brain areas is still very chaotically structured. Towards the end of the maturation process, the number of brain cells has significantly decreased, but as a result the young adults are now much better able to coordinate their own actions and planning more effectively. As a result, young people can better assess the consequences of their own actions beforehand.
The "intensively used neural networks are getting stronger" and the less used ones are switching off, said Prof. Franz Resch from the Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Heidelberg University. This process can be compared to pricking plants in the garden, according to the psychiatrist.
The brain becomes more effective
The present study results have shown that cognitive performance increases, explains Uhlhaas. The axons, i.e. the cables between the nerve cells, are now thicker surrounded by an insulating layer of fat. Similar to a switch from copper to fiber optic cables, the processing of the data is faster. However, it takes a development phase of several years until the human brain of an adolescent functions so effectively.
Under the direction of the scientist Uhlhaas, young people in the age group solved different tasks during the course of the study. They were connected to electrons and examined with a magnetic encephalograph (MEG). One task, for example, was to recognize different faces. The results were then evaluated. (sb)
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Image: Dieter Schütz / pixelio.de