Specific brain region distinguishes super-agers from others

In 2013 I reported briefly on a pilot study showing that “super-agers” — those over 80 years old who have the brains and cognitive powers more typical of people decades younger — had an unusually large anterior cingulate cortex, with four times as many von Economo neurons.

The ACC is critical for cognitive control, executive function, and motivation. Von Economo neurons have been linked to social intelligence, being found (as yet) only in humans, great apes, whales and dolphins, with a reduction being found in frontotemporal dementia and autism.

A follow-up to that study has now been reported, confirming the larger ACC, and greater amount of von Economo neurons.

The study involved 31 super-agers, 21 more typical older adults, and 18 middle-aged adults (aged 50-60). Imaging revealed a region of the ACC in the right hemisphere in the super-agers was not only significantly thicker than the 'normal' older adults, but also larger than that of the middle-aged adults. Post-mortem analysis of 5 of the super-agers found that their ACC had 87% less tau tangles (one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's) than 5 'normal' age-matched controls, and 92% less than that of 5 individuals with MCI. The density of von Economo neurons was also significantly higher.

Whether or not super-agers are born or made is still unknown (I'm picking a bit of both), but it's intriguing to note my recent report that people who frequently use several media devices at the same time had smaller grey matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex than those who use just one device occasionally.

I'd be interested to know the occupational and life-history of these super-agers. Did they lead lives in which they nurtured their powers of prolonged concentration? Or perhaps they belong to that other select group: the one-in-forty who can truly multitask.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-02/nu-sby020315.php

http://www.futurity.org/brains-superagers-849732/

[3880] Gefen, T., Peterson M., Papastefan S. T., Martersteck A., Whitney K., Rademaker A., et al.
(2015).  Morphometric and Histologic Substrates of Cingulate Integrity in Elders with Exceptional Memory Capacity.
The Journal of Neuroscience. 35(4), 1781 - 1791.

Related News

Memory begins with perception. We can’t remember what we don’t perceive, and our memory of things is influenced by how we perceive them.

As I’ve discussed on many occasions, a critical part of attention (and

Comparison of young adults (mean age 24.5) and older adults (mean age 69.1) in a visual memory test involving multitasking has pinpointed the greater problems older adults have with multitasking.

A study involving 171 sedentary, overweight 7- to 11-year-old children has found that those who participated in an exercise program improved both executive function and math achievement.

A link between positive mood and creativity is supported by a study in which 87 students were put into different moods (using music and video clips) and then given a category learning task to do (classifying sets of pictures with visually complex patterns).

A study involving 80 college students (34 men and 46 women) between the ages of 18 and 40, has found that those given a caffeinated energy drink reported feeling more stimulated and less tired than those given a decaffeinated soda or no drink.

We know active learning is better than passive learning, but for the first time a study gives us some idea of how that works. Participants in the imaging study were asked to memorize an array of objects and their exact locations in a grid on a computer screen.

If our brains are full of clusters of neurons resolutely only responding to specific features (as suggested in my earlier report), how do we bring it all together, and how do we switch from one point of interest to another?

A study involving young (average age 22) and older adults (average age 77) showed participants pictures of overlapping faces and places (houses and buildings) and asked them to identify the gender of the person.

Following on from earlier studies that found individual neurons were associated with very specific memories (such as a particular person), new research has shown that we can actually regulate the activity of specific neurons, increasing the firing rate of some while decreasing the rate of others

Pages

Subscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest health newsSubscribe to Latest news