In 1998, Fred H. Gage and Peter Eriksson discovered and announced that the human brain produces new nerve cells in adulthood. Until then, it had been assumed that humans are born with all the brain cells they will ever have.
Gage's lab showed that, contrary to years of dogma, human beings are capable of growing new nerve cells throughout life. Small populations of immature nerve cells are found in the adult mammalian brain, and Gage is working to understand how these cells can be induced to become mature nerve cells. His team is investigating how such cells can be transplanted back to the brain and spinal cord. They have showed that physical exercise can enhance the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a brain structure that is important for the formation of new memories. Furthermore, his team is examining the underlying molecular mechanisms that are critical to the birth of new brain cells, work that may lead to new therapeutics for neurodegenerative conditions.
Finally, his lab studies the genomic mosaicism that exists in the brain as a result of "jumping genes," mobile elements, and DNA damage that occurs during development. Specifically, he is interested in how this mosaicism may lead to difference in brain function between individuals.