Volume 96, Issue 62
Tuesday, January 17, 2003

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Banging may be good for the brain
Porn stars may be geniuses

By Pierre Hamilton
Gazette Staff

For those of us who do not experience great sex on a regular basis, a new Canadian study goes a long way to support the notion that good feelings come from sexual healing.

Published in early January, the study was released in the journal Science, and documents the quest of prolactin, a natural hormone that is produced in mice after orgasm and childbirth.

"Prolactin seems to act to promote neurogenesis [the birth of new brain neurons] during pregnancy," explained Sam Weiss, the study's author and professor of medicine at the University of Calgary.

More recently, scientists have learned that the human brain makes an attempt to heal itself after a stroke or other degenerative diseases, said Peter Cain, a Western psychology professor. The new study marks a dramatic shift in thought, Cain added.

"The idea that [brains] could grow new neurons was dogma – it was thought to be impossible," he explained.

"We discovered adult stem cells 10 years ago," Weiss said, adding that, about two years ago, the signalling system that keeps the number of cells steady was also discovered.

After discovering the birth of stem cells in the forebrains of adult mice, Weiss said he estimated production was occurring in the olfactory [nose] region of the brain. The increase of cells, marked by the release of prolactin, allowed the female mice to form new memories related to sexual attraction and child-rearing, he explained, adding brain cells seemed to have grown to supplement the need to remember and distinguish new scents.

Scientists also discovered that the increase in brain cells tapered off several weeks into the pregnancy, sparking again at delivery.

"[It ] also tends to occur during mating itself – [it is] not entirely related to pregnancy," Weiss said.

Scientists confirmed this hypothesis by mating sterile males with female mice, observing that the female mice continued to produce thousands of brain cells a week. Scientists believe that, if they can increase the amount of human stem cells, they will be able to repair or reverse the effects of brain disorders, he explained.

"We're constantly told that everything causes brain cell loss – at least that's what I thought," said Kate Toms, a third-year media, information and technoculture student.

The effects of prolactin are not restricted to the females, men can also benefit from a healthy sex life.

"Doesn't do a whole lot of good for me", said Steven Swain, a third-year MIT student.

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