Nature NeuroPod visits SfN megaconference

Nature Neuroscience’s NeuroPod podcast has a special on the recent Society for Neuroscience annual megaconference that picks up on some of the more interesting new developments.

There’s loads of fascinating new findings in there, but don’t miss the last few minutes of the podcast where Prof Eleanor Maguire talks about ongoing work with London Taxi drivers.

Maguire’s team famously discovered in 2000 that London Taxi drivers have bigger than average hippocampi, a brain structure known to be heavily involved in learning routes and spatial representations.

The study found that the size of the hippocampus correlated with the length of time being a taxi driver, suggesting that the extensive training and navigational experience may change and develop the hippocampus.

The study won an Ig Nobel Prize in 2003 for research “that cannot, or should not, be reproduced” but was actually one of the first studies to show likely experience-related changes to the structure of the human brain.

In the podcast Maguire discusses a new study which updates the findings and suggests that the taxi drivers’ pumped hippocampi come at a cost.

While their navigational abilities were increased, their ability to learn new associations between things (another function of the hippocampus) was poor, and the size of the anterior hippocampi (a more forward area) was actually smaller.

This suggests that overdevelopment in one area of the hippocampus may actually reduce development in another.

mp3 of NeuroPod special at SfN 2007 conference.
Link to NeuroPod index page.
pdf of Eleanor Maguire’s Taxi driver update study.

2 Comments

  1. hierophany
    Posted January 12, 2008 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    I’m a bit new to neuroscience so when people refer to “experience-related changes to the structure of the human brain”, can you elaborate on what this means? I’m familiar with synaptic plasticity, but I suppose this implies something more such as dendritic changes? Links would be great.

  2. Posted January 13, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi there,
    You’re quite right in that synaptic plasticity is a very fine-grained experience-related change to the structure of the brain, but in this context it typically means structural changes on a scale large enough to be detected by structural neuroimaging (e.g. MRI) or post-mortem brain studies.


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