Do our brain cells die as we age?

David A. Merrill, MD
Back in the old days, it was thought that as we went through life we lost neurons day by day, but research studies have refuted that. In fact, there's widespread conservation of brain cells as we age -- neurons do not die out with normal aging. They actually undergo more subtle changes.

If anything, as we get older, the development of new cells continues in parts of the brain, including the memory centers of the brain. But the way that the neurons communicate, both electrically and chemically, changes. You may see a decreased number of synapses, or connections, between cells. You may see changes in the neurotransmitters systems, the chemicals that communicate between cells. You may also see the signaling pathway within the neuron changing, so pathways that used to promote neural outgrowth and learning may be disabled, while the actual survival pathways may stay intact.

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