For centuries, scientists believed that we were born with all the nerve cells we would need during our lifetimes, and that the gradual death of these nerve cells over time was responsible for the classic mental symptoms of aging—loss of memory, dementia, and difficulty learning new things. But beginning in the 1960s, researchers started to find evidence that new nerve cells were born in the brains of adult rats, and later in adult monkeys. Finally, in 1998, Fred Gage, a neuroscientist at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, demonstrated that the human brain was also capable of generating new nerve cells after birth.
Located deep inside the brain, this area serves as the hub for making and storing memories. It’s the only region of the human brain that can grow new nerve cells, even in adults.
The entorhinal cortex acts as a gateway between the hippocampus and the rest of the cortex
Located in front of the hippocampus, the amygdala is your emotional nexus. Intimately connected to your senses, nerve cells in this region are primed to generate fear, anxiety and anger. This type of information can often be the most powerful part of a memory.
Because of its role in regulating emotions, the amygdala is emerging as an important player in addiction biology. Just as it layers potent emotional information onto memories, making them potentially more salient, the amygdala may also reinforce the pleasurable feelings of addictive drugs, leading users to seek out those blissful states again and again.
We can’t actively think about everything that we do in a day, such as coordinating movement—that’s the job of the cerebellum. Nestled toward the back of the brain, this region is responsible for our balance and fine motor control, as well as overseeing some our more routine movements, such as walking. We don’t have to think about putting one foot in front of the other—we just do.
Activity in this area is responsible for many of the higher level activities that distinguish us as human—such as thought, planning and decision-making, as well as more complex experiences such as regret and morality.
This region processes incoming information from our five senses, and helps us to orient ourselves in space and coordinate movement. Sensory information is a critical part of memories.
Nerve cells in this are busy processing auditory information from the environment and helping to develop language skills. They coordinate the translation of sounds into words that have meaning for us.
This area is the visual processing center of our brain.