Neuroscientists long believed human cells stopped developing after adolescence. But new research shows humans continue to produce new neurons in a part of the brain involved in learning, memory, and emotion throughout adulthood.
The findings not only counter previous theories about brain cell growth and production, but also could help point the way to new treatments for neurological conditions such as dementia, depression, and other psychiatric problems, the Guardian reports.
Some past research had suggested the production of new neurons in the hippocampus of the brain were at undetectable levels by our late teens. But the new study found new neurons are produced in this brain region in human adults and does not drop off with age.
“The exciting part is that the neurons are there throughout a lifetime,” said Dr. Maura Boldrini from Columbia University in New York and first author of the new study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
“It seems that indeed humans are different from mice – where [neuron production] goes down with age really fast – and this could mean that we need these neurons for our complex learning abilities and cognitive behavioral responses to emotions,” she said.
Boldrini and colleagues examined the brains of 28 men and women aged between 14 and 79, collected just hours after they had died. All of the individuals were healthy before death, unlike in many previous studies.
Using a number of techniques, the team identified new blood vessel formation, the volume, and the number of cells of different stages of maturity, in a region of the hippocampus where new neurons are produced.
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