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Science Human brains make new nerve cells — and lots of them — well into old age


Feb 12, 2018

I've heard all sorts of crazy claims from science during my lifetime. I've been told that newborns don't really feel pain (uh huh), that animals don't really have feelings (riiiight), and yes, that at some point you don't grow new brain cells.

Your brain might make new nerve cells well into old age.

Healthy people in their 70s have just as many young nerve cells, or neurons, in a memory-related part of the brain as do teenagers and young adults, researchers report in the April 5 Cell Stem Cell. The discovery suggests that the hippocampus keeps generating new neurons throughout a person’s life.

The finding contradicts a study published in March, which suggested that neurogenesis in the hippocampus stops in childhood (SN Online: 3/8/18). But the new research fits with a larger pile of evidence showing that adult human brains can, to some extent, make new neurons. While those studies indicate that the process tapers off over time, the new study proposes almost no decline at all.

Understanding how healthy brains change over time is important for researchers untangling the ways that conditions like depression, stress and memory loss affect older brains.
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Mar 3, 2018
I had read that study saying there were no new nerve cells and was wondering about that. IIRC, the original study, like a decade ago, that said new nerve cells were being created, also said those new nerve cells die if the subject isn't learning. Basically, the brain is always generating new cells and connections, and pruning those that aren't reinforced. A lot of elderly stop learning (see other threads on this board!), and I suspect that has a lot to do with the finding that there are few or no new nerve cells found in autopsies of the elderly.

This is part of why I am always trying to learn new things. The harder the better. I'm currently learning Japanese and metabolic pathways.
Mar 2, 2018
I try to learn something new every day, or at the very least expose my thinking to a new viewpoint or unique input. I have a replica human skull staring at me from on top of my computer to remind me that life is fleeting and there are no guarantees. So, keep learning! (I have named him Morry; those of you with a classical civ bent will get the reference).