• apoptosis;
  • dentate gyrus;
  • neurogenesis;
  • olfactory bulb;
  • subventricular zone


Young shrews of the genus Sorex that are born in early summer reduce their body size before wintering, including a reduction of brain weight of 10–30%. In the spring they mature sexually, double their body weight and regain about half of the loss in brain weight. To investigate the mechanisms of brain weight oscillations we studied the rate of cell death and generation in the brain during the whole life cycle of the common shrew (Sorex araneus) and pygmy shrew (S. minutus). After weaning, shrews generate new brain cells in only two mammalian neurogenic zones and approximately 80% of these develop into neurones. The increase of the shrew brain weight in the spring did not depend on recruitment of new cells. Moreover, adult Sorex shrews did not generate new cells in the dentate gyri. Injections of 5-HT1A receptor agonists in the adult shrews induced neurogenesis in their dentate gyri, showing the presence of dormant progenitor cells. Generation of new neurones in the subventricular zone of the lateral ventricles and their recruitment to olfactory bulbs continued throughout life. TUNEL labelling showed that the rate of cell death in all brain structures, including the proliferation zones and olfactory bulb, was very low throughout life. We conclude that neither cell death nor recruitment significantly contributes to seasonal oscillations and the net loss of brain weight in the Sorex shrews. With the exception of dentate gyrus and olfactory bulb, cellular populations of brain structures are stable throughout the life cycle of these shrews.