Brain cells keep growing well into our 70s


Washington, Apr 6 (TNS): For years, scientists have believed that hippocampal neurons stop being generated as we reach old age. But, a new study dramatically overturns this long-held belief.

A new study concludes that, even in older adults, brain cells continue to thrive. As the population of the United States lives longer and the number of older adults slowly rises, understanding how the brain reacts as it ages is becoming ever more important. Of particular interest is the production of new neurons, or neurogenesis, in the hippocampus. This is a brain region vital for turning short-term into long-term memories, among other tasks, such as navigation.

Over the years, the idea that neurogenesis in the hippocampus stops as we enter our twilight years has been hotly debated. In rodents and primates, for instance, the ability to grow new neurons in this region has been shown to slow with age. As this occurs, one part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, particularly important for the formation of new memories, shrinks in volume.

For some time, scientists have believed that this occurs in humans, too. Recently, researchers from Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, both in New York City, NY, ran an experiment in the hope of reaching a definitive conclusion. Previous studies have explored hippocampal volume in aging humans, but the results have been hampered by the technical difficulties of accurately measuring parts of the brain using scanning technology.