A new study from Columbia University discovered that healthy older men and women can still generate just as many new brain cells as younger individuals.

Popular belief based on earlier scientific studies have stated that the adult human brain is hard-wired not to grow new neurons any more. But recent research has revealed that many senior citizens still remain more cognitively and emotionally capable contrary to popular belief.

This new study came out in the journal Cell Stem Cell. Lead author Maura Boldrini, an associate professor of neurobiology at Columbia University, said, “We found that older people have similar ability to make thousands of hippocampal new neurons from progenitor cells as younger people do. We also found equivalent volumes of the hippocampus (a brain structure used for emotion and cognition) across ages. Nevertheless, older individuals had less vascularization, and maybe, less ability of new neurons to make connections.”

To arrive at their findings, Boldrini’s team of researchers autopsied the hippocampi from 28 deceased healthy individuals aged 14-79 years who died suddenly. The researchers looked at the subjects’ newly-formed neurons and the state of their blood vessels within the human hippocampus soon after death. The researchers selected those subjects that were not cognitively impaired or had not suffered depression or taken antidepressants that could affect the production of new brain cells.

Both researchers from Columbia and New York State Psychiatric Institute found that even some of the oldest brains in the sample study generated new brain cells. The researchers discovered similar group of intermediate neural progenitors and thousands of immature neurons in their brains.

However, the researchers also found out that the older subjects form fewer new blood vessels within their brains and possess a smaller pool of progenitor cells (these are descendants of stem cells) which have limited capacity to self-renew.

Boldrini concluded that the decline of cognitive functions and emotional resilience of older persons are due to the smaller pool of neural stem cells, the decline in vascularization, and the cells in the hippocampi’s reduced capacity to connect as they age. She said future research on the aging brain should focus on how neural cells multiply, mature and survive while regulated by hormone and inter-cell communications.

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