Study forces rethink on older adults growing new brain cells

Font Size:

For some time, there has been controversy over whether adult humans grow new brain cells (neurons), and some research has previously suggested that the adult brain was hard-wired and that adults did not grow new neurons.

A new study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, counters that notion.

Lead researcher Maura Boldrini, associate professor of neurobiology at Columbia University, says the findings may suggest that many senior citizens remain more cognitively and emotionally intact than commonly believed.

“We found that older people have a similar ability to make thousands of hippocampal new neurons from progenitor cells as younger people do,” Dr Boldrini explains.

“We also found equivalent volumes of the hippocampus (a brain structure used for emotion and cognition) across ages. Nevertheless, older individuals had less vascularisation and maybe less ability of new neurons to make connections.”

The researchers performed autopsies on the brains from 28 previously healthy individuals aged 14-79 who had died suddenly.

This is the first time researchers looked at newly formed neurons and the state of blood vessels within the entire human hippocampus soon after death. (The researchers had determined that study subjects were not cognitively impaired and had not suffered from depression or taken antidepressants, which Dr Boldrini and colleagues had previously found could impact the production of new brain cells.)

In rodents and primates, the ability to generate new brain cells declines with age. Waning production of neurons and an overall shrinking of the region of the hippocampus thought to help form new episodic memories, was believed to occur in ageing humans as well.

Instead, the researchers found that even the oldest brains they studied produced new brain cells.

Nevertheless, older individuals form fewer new blood vessels within brain structures.

Dr Boldrini surmised that reduced cognitive-emotional resilience in old age may be caused by this smaller pool of neural stem cells and reduced cell-to-cell connectivity within the hippocampus.

She says that future research on the ageing brain will continue to explore how neural cell proliferation, maturation, and survival are regulated by hormones, transcription factors, and other inter-cellular pathways.

What do you think? Do you still feel like you have a healthy mind? Have you noticed your brain ageing? What signs have you seen in others?


15 common health issues that mimic dementia

health, dementia, symptoms, alzheimers, mimic, misdiagnosis,

Scientists discover why our sense of direction fades as we age

Researchers have discovered an explanation for why some elderly people get lost.

Daytime sleepiness linked to increased risks of Alzheimer’s

Daytime sleepiness in cognitively normal elderly people leads to a build-up of brain plaque.

Written by Ben


Sign-up to the YourLifeChoices Enewsletter

continue reading

Health Insurance

Ageing baby boomers are missing out on health cover savings

Most older Australians see their health insurance premiums rise every year but don’t realise these high costs can be for...

Travel News

Vaccination no guarantee of open borders, says health minister

Australia's international border could remain closed even after the vaccination rollout is complete, according to health minister Greg Hunt. Mr...


The 'risk' of letting your grey hair grow out

At what point do you stop dyeing your hair and allow the grey to grow out? Is it after you...


Five running shoes reviewed

With the cooler weather, autumn and winter are arguably the best seasons to run in Australia, so it might be...


How large is Rupert Murdoch's reach in Australian media?

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd's petition to establish a royal commission into media diversity in Australia attracted more than half...


Coronary heart disease is the biggest killer of women worldwide

Heart attacks are still often seen as a 'male health' issue, yet coronary heart disease - which is the main...


Another vaccine ruled out as second blood clot case emerges

Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has announced that a second case of blood clots is believed to be linked to...

Superannuation News

Super funds fight for changes to reforms

Your Super, Your Future legislation will be enacted within three months and leading players are weighing in on the impact...