Scientists at Stanford University claim to have discovered a drug that could give adults the ability to absorb new information like a child.
Professor Carla Shatz and her colleagues Dr David Bochner and Richard Sapp discovered that by altering the brain protein PirB in mice they were able to form brain connections, synapses, more easily, boosting their capacity to learn and recover from brain damage.
"To me, this is amazing because what this is saying is that it is possible to induce new synapses in adult brains," said Professor Shatz.
PirB – called LilrB2 in humans – stabilises neural connections, so altering it gives the brain a child-like 'plasticity', claim the researchers.
The molecule was shut down in the mice by the scientists using a new drug. In previous studies, a genetic method was used to turn off the receptor early in the animal's development.
The mice which had the protein repressed showed a greater ability to recover from brain damage learn new skills by forming new synapses. Also, mice which were blinded by brain damage recovered some of their vision.
Professor Schatz has previously conducted studies linking LilrB2 to Alzheimer's, and said that the study showed that it may also be possible to re-wire people's brains, making their connections as malleable as a child's.
Stroke victims and others who have conditions caused by damage to the brain's neural connections could also be helped by the drug, experts believe.
However, Shatz said that the taking the proteins could be key to ensuring the brain's stability.
"At first I thought, 'I want to take this pill right away,' but maybe we want to think about that," Shatz said.
"During these early critical periods you want to learn rapidly," said Shatz. "When this is happening, the connections are changing so fast that they are very unstable. This is part of why kids are susceptible to epilepsy."