Perpetual youth—with the vitality and intellectual acuity associated with a young mind—is a universal desire that has materialized in recurring concepts such as the Holy Grail or the Philosopher’s Stone.
Beyond this human longing, the existence of the so-called seniors Brain represents a challenge and an opportunity to understand the root of health and healthy aging.
octogenarian with fifty year old mind
Super Elders are people over the age of 80 who maintain the physical and cognitive characteristics of an adult between the ages of 20 and 30. What makes them so resistant to brain deterioration?
Recent investigations have revealed new knowledge about the molecular and cellular mechanisms that may be involved in the inevitable and irreversible aging process.
Delving deeper into the genetic mechanisms of longevity and its expression in organisms (phenotypes) has allowed us to focus on life habits (diet, exercise, cognitive activity, etc.) as important factors that lead to healthy aging or pathological. Let’s balance towards. The phenomenon that allows us to modify our genetic destiny is epigenetics.
Epigenetic mechanisms are chemical modifications to DNA that are triggered by changes in the environment (physical or cognitive) and that modify the expression of our genes. So our predicted destiny in the form of genetic information can be rewrite -As we punctuate a text- by the actions of our daily lives. And, moreover, they can be inherited by our descendants. But let’s see what happens to our brain throughout life.
slow maturing organ
Unlike other species, the human brain must continue to develop after birth. It is a slow process, which begins at conception and does not stop until death, although it reaches maturity between the ages of about 20 and 24.
As we know, our thinking organ is made up of interconnected neurons and other nerve cells that support and defend it (astrocytes and microglia). We have about 10 trillion neurons that act as a massive network of information, storing and managing our daily lives. Guaranteeing its precise integrity of the protection and regeneration mechanism.
Until a few years ago it was thought that, once brain maturity was reached, there was no mechanism to replace neurons and repair lost connections. Nothing could be further from the truth: today we know that there are specific areas (niches) of the brain where progenitor cells (stem cells) can help repair or replace neurons that have been degenerated or damaged.
The existence of protective mechanisms does not prevent these parental scars from repopulating neurons with age. Therefore, an older person’s brain has less ability to regenerate, which causes a decrease in cognitive ability.
In any case, people usually only suffer severe cognitive impairment when the loss of neurons is too great to cause a degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s.
What is surprising is that this drastic loss does not seriously alter the quality of life of the ultra-elderly, given their increased resilience and cognitive reserve. We call cognitive reserve the capacity of our central nervous system to balance and optimize its functioning in the face of neurodegenerative pathology. This faculty is also associated with factors such as intellectual activity: reading, writing or socializing.
where does he come from superpoder Of the super-elderly?
It seems that the ultra-elderly share similar habits: They stay physically active, they’re positive, they challenge their brains and they learn something new every day. Many continue to work into their 80s.
Additionally, scientific evidence highlights the importance of staying socially engaged as we age. Activities such as visiting family and friends, volunteering with an organization, and going to various events have been linked to better cognitive function.
And vice versa: less social participation in older age is associated with a higher risk of dementia. These facts validate the idea that the environment is a major player in our aging.
high performance neurons
On the other hand, a recent study suggests that ultra-elderly people have a larger than normal group of neurons in a brain structure involved in memory preservation (layer II of the entorhinal cerebral cortex). These nerve cells may be related to the concept of cognitive reserve.
Research suggests that this characteristic of the ultra-elderly is not seen in people of the same age with cognitive impairment, nor in individuals between the ages of 60 and 65 who begin to experience memory failure. Furthermore, it is significant that this area of the brain is most affected by the neuronal degeneration that is characteristic of Alzheimer’s.
Scientists also observed that superneurons They do not present the characteristics of aging in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In this case, an abnormal accumulation of proteins (tau and beta amyloid) in brain tissue causes the death of neurons.
All of the above explains why neural degeneration does not occur in the ultra-elderly – or at least not at the rate of an elderly person – and they retain the cognitive abilities of a person in their 20s or 30s.
The discovery of superneurons also raises the question of whether we can favor their presence during neurodevelopment or during childhood. The combination of both facts, the practice of healthy social habits and the existence of extraordinary nerve cells, opens the door to having some influence on our inherited genes through epigenetic changes.
It would also be interesting to know whether neurons extra large They may, by presence or absence, constitute a marker of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, both their progression and response to therapy. And, finally, if they’ll serve as targets for finding new treatments.