Elderly people generate as many new brain cells as teenagers, says study
A study published in the Nature journal last March postulated that the brain stops creating new cells at the age of 13 — a discovery that could overturn 20 years of conventional thought if confirmed.
However, a study published on April 5 on the Cell Stem Cell journal by a group of Columbia University scientists counters this, showing that brain cell generation persists throughout aging.
The researchers presented the most definitive evidence to date that the human brain makes new neutrons throughout life, as per the Columbia University Irving Medical Center Newsroom last April 5.
It was believed by neuroscientists that the capacity for neurogenesis, or the production of new neutrons, declines with age. This was through previous studies of animal brains, mice mainly, where new neurons were discovered to virtually cease in the mature brain.
“In mice, researchers have shown that neurogenesis drops pretty dramatically after middle age,” said the study’s lead author Maura Boldrini, MD, PhD, a research scientist in psychiatry and a member of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative.
Boldrini’s team, however, collected deceased donors’ brains to conduct a psychological autopsy where they used a combination of molecular probes and mathemical modeling to track neurogenesis in 28 healthy donors, ranging from 14 to 79 years old.
It was here where they discovered that neurogenesis persists even among the elderly, and does not stop in adolescence: “We found there were on the other of thousands of neuroprogenitor cells and immature neutrons both in the youngest and the oldest people analyzed.”
But while new cells where discovered among the elderly donors, it was also found that their neurons had lower levels of new neural connections.
“It is possible that the changes we see in the older brains are related to some cognitive-emotional changes that occur with aging,” said Boldrini. “And exercise, diet, and medications may help, but future studies are needed to investigate these ideas.”
Today, the researchers are hoping to explore their study “to understand better how new neurons mature and how that could be manipulated.” JB
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