A study released in October of this year and published in The Scientist shows that myelin, a fatty covering that surrounds and insulates neuronal axons, may play a bigger role in motor learning than scientists once thought.
Indeed, Gabriel Corfas, a researcher and scientist from the University of Michigan, said that “This is a very significant paradigm shift in the ways we think about how the brain changes in order to acquire information,” when referring to the research paper.
In effect, what the research showed was that, in order for the adult mice (the test subjects in the research experiment) to learn a complex motor task, they must first generate a new myelin sheath in order to do it.
The reason that this is such compelling news in the scientific community is that it challenges a long-standing assumption about how learning works. It was long thought that changes to the anatomy of neurons, and their function, was exclusively where learning and memory were produced, but his new research goes against that assumption.
Prof. Robin Franklin from the University of Cambridge agrees that the new information is quite compelling, asserting: “This paper is a very significant step in a mounting body of work that shows that in fact the glial cells are not simply sells for neurons; they have, in their own right, fundamentally important roles in how the brain works.”
Scientists have long studied how human memory works and, while their research is ongoing and quite captivating, the fact is that the mystery of memory is still that; a mystery. This research however brings them a little bit closer to the truth.
Journal citation: I.A. McKenzie et al., “Motor skill learning requires active central myelination,” Science, doi: 10.1126/science.1254960, 2014.