New brain cells in old people raise hopes for long, healthy life

New brain cells grow even in old people who can keep them functioning well through healthy lifestyle and sustained social interactions, US researchers say. Maura Boldrini, associate professor of neurobiology at Columbia University, who led the study, says the findings may explain memory loss and emotional problems and suggest remedies to these conditions. Researchers are looking for the foundations of new brain cells, including progenitor cells, or stem cells that would eventually become neurons. They autopsied 28 healthy brains donated by people who died suddenly between the ages of 14 and 79 and examined the newly formed neurons and the state of blood vessels within the entire human hippocampus, the brain’s centre for learning and memory. They found that older people have similar ability to make thousands of hippocampal new neurons from progenitor cells as younger people do. They also found equivalent volumes of the hippocampus across ages. However, the functioning of the new neurons in older people might be impaired due to ageing blood vessels. The researchers now want to study how the growth and survival of neurons are regulated by various factors including hormones and other molecules. They hope this could lead to treatment for dementia. They plan to compare the findings in healthy ageing individuals with those of others suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s to know what goes wrong with people having memory loss. The report was published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.