The finding also suggests the possibility of treating various neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, dementia and depression, by stimulating the brain's ability to produce new nerve cells, said senior study investigator Ashok K. Shetty, Ph.D., professor of neurosurgery at Duke University Medical Center and medical research scientist at Durham VA Medical Center.
Results of the study appear online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Previous studies by Shetty and others had demonstrated that as the brain ages, fewer new nerve cells, or neurons, are born in the hippocampus, the brain's learning and memory center. In one study, Shetty and colleagues showed that the production of new neurons in rats slows down dramatically by middle age -- the equivalent of 50 years in humans.
But scientists did not know what causes this decline.
The common assumption had been that the brain drain was due to a decreasing supply of neural stem cells in the aging hippocampus, said lead study investigator Bharathi Hattiangady, Ph.D., research associate in neurosurgery. Neural stem cells are immature cells that have the ability to give rise to all types of nerve cells in the brain.
In the current study, however, the researchers found that the stem cells in aging brains are not reduced in number, but instead they divide less frequently, resulting in dramatic reductions in the addition of new neurons in the hippocampus.
To conduct their census, the researchers attached easy-to-spot fluorescent tags to the neuronal stem cells in the hippocampus in young, middle-aged and old rats.
They found that in young rats, the hippocampus contained 50,000 stem cells -- and, significantly, this number did not diminish with aging. This finding, the researchers said, suggested that the decreased production of new neurons in the aged brain was not due to a lack of starting material.
The researchers then used another fluorescent molecule to tag all stem cells that were undergoing division in the process of staying "fresh" in case they were recruited to become mature nerve cells.
They found that in young rats, approximately 25 percent of the neural stem cells were actively dividing, but only 8 percent of the cells in middle-aged rats and 4 percent in old rats were dividing. This decreased division of stem cells is what causes the decreased neurogenesis, or birth of nerve cells, seen with aging, the scientists said.
"This discovery provides a new avenue to pursue in trying to combat the cognitive decline associated with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and with aging in general," Hattiangady said.
The team now is searching for ways to stimulate the brain to replace its own cells in order to improve learning and memory function in the elderly.
One approach being explored is to treat older rats with drugs designed to mimic the action of compounds called neurogenic factors, which encourage stem cells in the brain to divide, Shetty said. The researchers also are grafting neural stem cells grown in culture dishes into the hippocampus, to stimulate those already present. Additional approaches include using behavioral modification techniques, such as physical exercise and exposure to an enriching environment, that are known to stimulate proliferation of stem cells.
Marla Vacek Broadfoot | EurekAlert!
How molecules teeter in a laser field
18.01.2019 | Forschungsverbund Berlin
Discovery of enhanced bone growth could lead to new treatments for osteoporosis
18.01.2019 | University of California - Los Angeles
The scientific and political community alike stress the importance of German Antarctic research
Joint Press Release from the BMBF and AWI
The Antarctic is a frigid continent south of the Antarctic Circle, where researchers are the only inhabitants. Despite the hostile conditions, here the Alfred...
World first experiments on sensor that may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles
The new sensor - capable of detecting vibrations of living cells - may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles.
Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.
In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...
Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.
It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:
The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.
One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...
16.01.2019 | Event News
14.01.2019 | Event News
12.12.2018 | Event News
18.01.2019 | Materials Sciences
18.01.2019 | Life Sciences
18.01.2019 | Health and Medicine