March 8, 2018

Research finds the adult brain might not actually be able to regenerate

New research is suggesting that the adult brain might not be able to naturally renew itself after all and changes after its teenage years. The study, which was published recently in Naturelooked at samples of the hippocampus taken from 59 people ranging from prenatal to adulthood. The hippocampus is a region of the brain that plays a large role in memory.

What they were looking for
They were looking for signs of new neurons in the dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus. That part is well known to have higher rates of neurogenesis in other mammals like rodents and is speculated to happen in people too. The goal was to observe the number of new neurons created in the brain based on one’s age.

What they found
They found lots of new neurons in samples taken from fetuses and newborns, but a sharp drop in children and nearly undetectable levels in adults. This finding adds one more point to the side that holds that our brains cells don’t renew themselves past a certain age. The question of whether they do or not has continued to generate discussion and a market of products or services that claim to rejuvenate brain cells.

The caveat
This study only covers one part of the brain and is by no means the final word on other parts. Further, as has been noted in past research, our ability to stay sharp in adulthood doesn’t rely solely on the number of neurons we have. According to the study’s lead author, Shawn Sorrells:“ [O]ther forms of plasticity, such as changes in synaptic transmission or remodeling of existing neurons, might be much more important,” he said.

So just like the debunked idea that bigger brains mean smarter people, the idea of fewer neurons translating to decreased mental ability shouldn’t alarm us, but it should remind us that our acuity isn’t permanent and we should take care of the one brain we have.

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