A new study challenges 60 years’ worth of research suggesting that aging brains churn out new nerve cells. Researchers found that the human brain stops producing neurons in the hippocampus in early teen years.
The revelations are significant since the hippocampus is the center of memories, which means that the brain’s regenerative abilities are not that widespread as previously believed.
Initial studies in the field believed that the human brain shuts down production of new cells immediately after birth. In the 1960s, new research showed brain cells continue to be born in the brains of adult rats as well.
Over the years, scientists found new brain cells in other adult species including birds and monkeys. In 1998, a research team found that the human hippocampus builds new cells in adulthood.
In 2013, a similar study confirmed the theory suggesting that the adult hippocampus can produce as many as 1,400 new neurons every day.
A ‘Surprising’ New Study
The latest study, however, challenges those findings. Lead author Arturo Alvarez-Buylla noted that his team had expected to find young brain cells in the hippocampus when they started the study. “We were surprised when we couldn’t find them,” the researcher added.
The research team, which included experts from the U.S., Spain, and China, took a look at 59 brains from people aged up to 77 years old. The samples were either collected after those people died or during brain surgeries.
- The study revealed that the hippocampus produces new brain cells before and shortly after birth.
- However, after the first year of life, the production of nerve cells drops dramatically.
- By the age 13, only a few young neurons emerge in the hippocampus.
- In the brains of adults, researchers were unable to find new neurons in the hippocampus.