BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

If you want your child to be­come flu­ent in for­eign lan­guages, or grow up to be a con­cert pi­anist, then the ad­vice has al­ways been to start them as early as pos­si­ble. There’s a sound sci­en­tific rea­son for this: chil­dren have a much greater ca­pa­bil­ity for au­di­tory learn­ing than adults. But now, in news that will de­light pushy par­ents ev­ery­where, re­searchers at St Jude’s Chil­dren’s Re­search Hospi­tal in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee have man­aged to ex­tend this ‘learn­ing win­dow’ into early adult­hood, al­beit only in mice so far.

The re­searchers used sev­eral dif­fer­ent tech­niques to ei­ther re­duce the brain’s sup­ply of the neu­ro­mod­u­la­tor adeno­sine, or block the A1 re­cep­tor that is vi­tal to its func­tion. Adeno­sine in­hibits the re­lease of the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter glu­ta­mate, which is used by the au­di­tory thal­a­mus and the au­di­tory cor­tex, the ar­eas of the brain that process sound. With adeno­sine pro­duc­tion and ac­tiv­ity sup­pressed, the au­di­tory thal­a­mus and cor­tex had more glu­ta­mate to work with. As a re­sult, the adult mice with lower lev­els of adeno­sine ex­hib­ited a greater abil­ity to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween tones than adult mice in the con­trol group.

“Th­ese re­sults of­fer a promis­ing strat­egy to ex­tend the same win­dow in hu­mans to ac­quire lan­guage or mu­sic abil­ity… pos­si­bly by de­vel­op­ing drugs that se­lec­tively block adeno­sine ac­tiv­ity,” said re­search lead Dr Stanislav Zakharenko.

Be warned, though. Adeno­sine is also in­volved with sleep and sup­press­ing arousal.

Chil­dren are bet­ter at learn­ing in­stru­ments and lan­guages than older peo­ple, but sci­en­tists may have un­locked a way to ex­tend this ca­pa­bil­ity to adults

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