Medicalnewstoday.com is reporting on new research which suggests that neurons, or the brain’s nerve cells, may be created even in old age. Prevailing scientific belief held that most neurons are lost shortly after birth, with the loss slowing but continuing throughout one’s life.

According to researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology in Germany, certain types of neuronal stem cells in the brains of mice are able to divide later in life. Certain events, such as physical activity or an epileptic seizure, can trigger the production of new cells. The newly formed cells are then integrated into the existing network of neurons and may increase learning capacity.

With the help of colleagues throughout Germany, the institute’s researchers have concluded that the hippocampus section of the brain contains both active and dormant neuronal stem cells. “In young mice, the stem cells divide four times more frequently than in older animals. However, the number of cells in older animals is only slightly lower. Therefore, neuronal stem cells do not disappear with age but are kept in reserve,” said researcher Verdon Taylor.

Researchers suspect that a similar differentiation of active and dormant stem cells exists in the human brain. “There are indicators that the excessive formation of new neurons plays a role in epilepsy. The use of neuronal brain stem cells in the treatment of brain injuries or degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s may also be possible one day,” said Taylor.