Discoveries in recent years have shown that, contrary to popular belief, neurogenesis—the growth and development of new neurons—can occur into adulthood. But now a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago finds that new brain cells can continue to form into our nineties.
The study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, analyzed the brains of deceased people aged 79-99. Researchers looked for markers of two kinds of burgeoning cells in the hippocampus: immature neurons and neuroblasts–stem cells that develop into neurons after a migration phase.
The study looked at both the brains of people with normal cognition and those with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. The latter group had evidence of these cells, but in lower numbers. The study’s authors found that people who had scored higher on cognition tests late in life had more neuroblasts in their hippocampi compared to those who had scored lower.
“In brains from people with no cognitive decline who scored well on tests of cognitive function, these people tended to have higher levels of new neural development at the time of their death, regardless of their level of pathology,” study author Orly Lazarov told Forbes. “The mix of the effects of pathology and neurogenesis is complex and we don’t understand exactly how the two interconnect, but there is clearly a lot of variation from individual to individual.”
This indicates it is possible the level of neurogenesis in a patient matters as much as the amount of plaques in an Alzheimer’s patient.
“The fact that we found that neural stem cells and new neurons are present in the hippocampus of older adults means that if we can find a way to enhance neurogenesis, through a small molecule, for example, we may be able to slow or prevent cognitive decline in older adults, especially when it starts, which is when interventions can be most effective,” said Lazarov.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a common neurological disorder which affects millions of people throughout the world. Although its exact cause is not known, researchers believe environmental and lifestyle factors as well as genetics play a role. As this damage spreads to key parts of the brain, memories and cognitive function become drastically impaired while the brain itself actually begins to shrink in size. Patients who come to Okyanos for treatment for Alzheimer’s and early dementia report improved recall and the ability to remember. Find out more about our treatment here.