We Develop Brain Cells All Life Long, But Growth Slows With Age

There has been quite a heated debate in the scientific community about the permanence of lost brain cells. Or rather, the debate has been over whether or not we are able to grow new ones; and that debate has finally reached an interesting conclusion.  

Researchers from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (the University of Madrid) found that while we may be born with all of our neurons—the brain cells that send electrical signals—our brains do, in fact, continue to make new brain cells throughout our lives.  

Led by molecular biologist Maria Llorens-Martin the team studied brain tissue taken from 58 deceased human patients in order to examine the process of adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN) up close.  These patients were between the ages of 43 and 97 at the time of their deaths. 

On their website, the team explains, “Our research group is focused on investigating the mechanisms that control adult hippocampal neurogenesis, both under physiological and pathological conditions.”

Again, the focus of the research was on the region of the brain called the hippocampus. This is the region involved with memory and emotion; and what they found could have some intriguing implications about the relationship between memory and again, and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

The statement continues, “In particular, we are interested in determining the therapeutic potential of increasing adult hippocampal neurogenesis for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other tauopathies.”

“The relative abundance of DCX+ immature neurons detected, together with expression of cell markers characteristic of both early and late stages of maturation, suggests that these cells also have an extended maturation period during AHN in humans.”

At the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s development, the number of neurons actively forming fell from 30,000 per millimeter to 20,000 per millimeter.  That is a reduction of one-third, or about 30 percent, just at the onset of the condition.  More importantly, it occurs before the accumulation of amyloid beta, which is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s detection.

That in mind, Dr. Llorens-Martin says this new understanding could be the first step to new Alzheimer’s treatments as well as treatments for other conditions associated with normal [healthy] aging.

The study has been published in the journal Nature Magazine.