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Curr Biol. 2011 Dec 20;21(24):2109-14. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.11.018. Epub 2011 Dec 8.

Acquiring "the Knowledge" of London's layout drives structural brain changes.

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1
Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, Institute of Neurology, University College London, London WC1N 3BG, UK.

Abstract

The last decade has seen a burgeoning of reports associating brain structure with specific skills and traits (e.g., [1-8]). Although these cross-sectional studies are informative, cause and effect are impossible to establish without longitudinal investigation of the same individuals before and after an intervention. Several longitudinal studies have been conducted (e.g., [9-18]); some involved children or young adults, potentially conflating brain development with learning, most were restricted to the motor domain, and all concerned relatively short timescales (weeks or months). Here, by contrast, we utilized a unique opportunity to study average-IQ adults operating in the real world as they learned, over four years, the complex layout of London's streets while training to become licensed taxi drivers. In those who qualified, acquisition of an internal spatial representation of London was associated with a selective increase in gray matter (GM) volume in their posterior hippocampi and concomitant changes to their memory profile. No structural brain changes were observed in trainees who failed to qualify or control participants. We conclude that specific, enduring, structural brain changes in adult humans can be induced by biologically relevant behaviors engaging higher cognitive functions such as spatial memory, with significance for the "nature versus nurture" debate.

PMID:
22169537
PMCID:
PMC3268356
DOI:
10.1016/j.cub.2011.11.018
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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