My bubble just got busted. A new study recently poured cold water on a widely-held and view about the brain’s regenerative capacity via generating of new neurons.
The idea that our brains continue to generate new neurons after age 13 and well into our older years has garnered immense popular and scientific interest. Neurons are highly specialized nerve cells that transmit information in the brain and throughout the body.
Indeed, idea that one can boost brain health and improve learning long after one’s hey-days is an attractive one. Hopes were that adult neurogenesis can be harnessed to treat degenerative disease, conditions, and injury as well as improve cognition.
Previously, some studies have suggested that hundreds of new neurons are created in the human hippocampus every day. The hippocampus is a small horse-shoe-like organ in the brain that is associated with short-term and, particularly, long-term memory.
Many brain-boosting products and techniques supposed to help support, enhance, or accelerate the creation of new neurons have been promoted based on neurogenesis.
For the study, published in the journal Nature, the researchers looked at brain samples from 59 adults and children from fetal age to 77 years old. The samples were obtained either from brain surgery or postmortem.
They found “no evidence of young neurons or the dividing progenitors of new neurons”. Let not the “progenitors” terminology confuse you; it simply means no new neurons were found after a certain age. What age?
Well, the researchers did find some new neurons in children between birth and 1 year. They also found “a few at 7 to 13 years of age”. After age around 13, no new neurons were found. Development of the hippocampus, the study suggests, largely occurs during fetal stage and begins to decline soon after birth.
Looks like we may be back to the “old” science that held that the brain stops making new neurons around adolescence.
Which is kind of disappointing if you ask me. Will another more advanced and credible – I’m not in any way suggesting this one is not credible – study come along to give us hope once more? Only time can tell. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if this study stirs a controversy.