Humans continue to produce new neurons in a part of their brain involved in learning, memory and emotion throughout adulthood, scientists have revealed, countering previous theories that production stopped after adolescence. The findings could help in developing treatments for neurological conditions such as dementia.
…[Maura] Boldrini and colleagues looked at the hippocampus in 28 men and women aged between 14 and 79, collected just hours after they had died.
Using a number of techniques, the team examined the degree of new blood vessel formation, the volume, and the number of cells of different stages of maturity, in an area known as the dentate gyrus.
The team found levels of these “mother cells” dropped with age in the front and middle region of the dentate gyrus. However, levels of the cells they give rise to did not drop, with the team finding thousands of new, immature neurons in the dentate gyrus at the time of death regardless of age.
…[T]here was a drop in the front of the dentate gyrus in the number of cells producing substances linked to neuroplasticity – the ability for the brain to change or “rewire”.
The authors note that a drop in plasticity might help explain why even healthy people can become more emotionally vulnerable as they age, but that the formation of new cells including neurons might help protect against cognitive or emotional decline.
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