Neurons continue to grow and change beyond the first years of development and well into adulthood, according to a new study.

The finding challenges the traditional belief that adult brain cells, or neurons, are largely static and unable to change their structures in response to new experiences.

The study, performed in adult mice, found that the branch-like projections on some neurons, called dendrites, were still physically malleable.

Dendrites conduct electrical signals received from other neurons to the parent neuron’s cell body.

The changes occurred both incrementally and in short bursts, and involved both growth and shrinkage.

Growth spurts

Some of the changes were dramatic by neuron standards. One dendrite sprouted an impressive 90 microns (about .003 inches), more than doubling its length in less than two weeks.

"The scale of change is much smaller than what goes on during the critical period of development, but the fact that it goes on at all is earth-shattering,"said study co-author Elly Nedivi, a neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

More here.