Old people can develop new brain cells, study says

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Even in old age people could be able to form new brain cells. This is the result of a study published by Columbia University researchers in New York Thursday (local time) in the US journal Cell Stem Cell. Older people could form thousands of new nerve cells in the hippocampus, similar to the younger ones, said the lead author of the study, Maura Boldrini.

Also, the sizes of the examined brain parts were similar across the age groups, Boldrini said. Her research focused on the hippocampus, located deep in the brain and responsible for learning and memory. The results suggest that many older people may retain their cognitive and emotional abilities longer than previously thought.

The scientists examined brain samples from 28 people between the ages of 14 and 79, who had died suddenly. They have been researching “newly formed nerve cells and the condition of the blood vessels,” says the study.

The results contradict those of a study published at the beginning of March in “Nature”, according to which no new cells are formed in the hippocampus after the age of 13 years. Study Director Arturo Alvarez-Buylla from the University of California at San Francisco was therefore not convinced by the Columbia study.

The cells would be very different in shape and appearance from those found in young people, Alvarez-Buylla’s laboratory said in a statement. There is no “conclusive evidence” for neoplasm of cells in adults.

Boldrini pointed out that her research team used shock-frozen brain samples, while the chemically-conserved samples used by the scientists from California could have influenced the results.

Brain research is gaining importance in view of an aging world population. Scientists are trying to better understand the aging process of the brain in order to prevent or treat diseases such as dementia.

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