It's true. What you've always feared. Your brain has less going on that it did when you were a toddler. But it's all right. In fact it's supposed to be that way. The process of "synaptic pruning" gets rid of all of the neural pathways your brain built when you were just a baby and strengthens the ones you use all the time.
It's science. And Dr. Beth Stevens, who was recently awarded a "genius" grant from the MacArthur Foundation, has made huge strides in working out how exactly this whole process happens. Here's the breakdown, as told by your friends from Rockos' Modern Life:
You are a baby.Giphy
And everything is new to you.
Your brain builds pathways like crazy!Giphy
For the first two years you're alive, your brain basically goes on a connection-building spree. Your little baby brain is filled with more than 100 trillion of those connections, or synapses.
You start to grow up.Giphy
Some of those synapses aren't so important any more. Your brain has to find a way to whittle down all of the unnecessary channels and focus on the ones that are really important, like your selfie game.
In come the microglia!Giphy
These guys are basically little architects. In addition to working as part of the brain's immune system, they help clean up all of those outdated synapses.
Enter the "Eat Me" signs.Giphy
Along come another type of cell - astrocytes - that signal the microglia to get rid of the pathways our brains no longer use.
Om nom nom nom!Giphy
Microglia go to town, gobbling up those stale synapses.
You've built a better brain.Giphy
Without all of those useless pathways junking up your brain, things function all whole lot better. See? You're brilliant.
Stevens' research with those cute, little mircroglia could have a huge impact on how we treat disorders caused by botched brain architecture like schizophrenia. It can also help us understand degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. But her research could have the greatest influence on autism. Stevens is looking at the activity of microglia in the brains of mice and how more synapses and more active microglia effect humans on the spectrum.