New studies on brain aging from NICO in Turin
In some unexplored areas of the brain, there are some immature neurons that could compensate the reduced regeneration abilities of the brain: they have been identified by the research team of Prof. Luca Bonfanti from the Neuroscience Institute Cavalieri Ottolenghi of the University of Turin.
Several studies have been carried out to investigate the possibility for the brain to generate new neurons, even if researchers have realized that this phenomenon, although present in humans, is very much reduced as compared to mice.
Studies carried out to date have shown that there are two types of newly-generated neurons, those generated ex novo in adult neurogenesis, and others, produced before birth, which remain in a state of immaturity waiting to be used.
Observed in the ’90s by Prof. Luca Bonfanti, these neurons were identified in the paleocortex, the most ancient area (from an evolutionary point of view) of the brain cortex of lab rodents while, later, the same neurons were also found in the neocortex (the part of the brain cortex with more recent phylogenetic development) in other species of mammals with longer life expectancy than lab rodents.
The study carried out by Prof. Bonfanti’s team, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, now confirm that all neurons found both in the paleocortex and the neocortex are actually “immature”, thus discovering that the same type of neurons also abounds in other regions of the brain, including those involved in the management of emotions and conscious states.
To achieve these results, researchers have used a technique that allows to mark the dividing neurons in the fetus, by using the sheep as animal model which is substantially halfway between the mouse and the man.
“These results” said Prof. Bonfanti “confirm the importance of immature neurons in some animal species as compared to others, by paving the way to studies on the order-level phylogeny of the different mammals, including man, and suggesting that this type of plasticity could have been “chosen” over the course of evolution by species with reduced neurogenesis abilities as our species. The opportunity to have a reservoir of newly-generated neurons inside the most noble part of our brain is today a tempting hypothesis for the future” concluded Bonfanti “especially if we think about possible roles in the prevention of brain aging”.
NICO is the research centre of the University of Turin dedicated to Neuroscience, having the aim of bringing together basic research and applied and clinical research. NICO results from the need to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to the complex investigation of the brain, meeting the need to aggregate the experience of university professors and researchers, thus exploiting the heritage of knowledge and the opportunity to use labs and scientific equipment at best.