The human brain may continue to develop new brain cells even in old age, a new study offers. (Shutterstock)
New study challenges previous research that found brains don’t grow new brains cells as we age
BY ANDREA DONSKY, WWW.NATURALLYSAVVY.COM
December 17, 2018 Updated: December 17, 2018
For years, scientists largely believed that the production of new brain cells in areas responsible for memory, emotion, and learning stopped after adolescence. This was not a comforting thought, and it lead to ideas that adults, as they age, were more susceptible to emotional instability, faulty memory, and poor ability to learn.
But now, the authors of a recent study report that new brain cells (neurons) continue to be produced in human adults and don’t decline with age. This discovery is good news for adults, and may help researchers find new ways to manage memory disorders and psychiatric challenges.
Making New Brain Cells
According to the study’s first author, Maura Boldrini from Columbia University in New York, the presence of new brain cells and immature cells that can develop into mature ones in older adults “could mean that we need these neurons for our complex learning abilities and cognitive-behavioral responses to emotions.”
The study itself involved 28 males and females between the ages of 14 and 79 who were healthy before their deaths. Samples of the hippocampus (the area of the brain responsible for memory, emotions, and motivation) were collected within hours of their deaths and examined for signs of new neurons, including the formation of new blood vessels and the number of different cells in various stages of development.
The authors discovered thousands of new, immature brain cells in the dentate gyrus, which is the part of the hippocampus involved with creating new memories. Basically, the scientists learned that although the number of “mother cells” (cells that give rise to new cells) declines in the dentate gyrus, there are “daughter cells … that exponentially divide and make many more cells and differentiate towards becoming a neuron.”
That’s the good news. The less than good news is that as we age, there is a decline in the number of cells that make it possible for our brain to rewire itself—this is called neuroplasticity.
Therefore, even though we still can make new brain cells as we age, they may be less flexible or plastic. This loss of plasticity may be a reason why healthy older adults can be emotionally vulnerable.
Not everyone agrees with this new finding. Based on the discoveries of a previous study, adults do not produce new brain cells. According to Mercedes Paredes, who along with her colleagues published a paper stating the opposite of the newer study, the development of new neurons in the adult human hippocampus is “extremely rare.”
So, the jury appears to still be out on this question, and it is a question that is of great interest to scientists. We are sure to see more information on this topic in the future.
Andrea Donsky is an author, registered holistic nutritionist, editor-in-chief of NaturallySavvy.com, and co-founder of The Healthy Shopper Inc. and Naturally Savvy Media. This article was first published on NaturallySavvy.com