Posted on Jan 21, 2016, 6 a.m.
What characterizes the brains of men and women with cognitive skills as sharp as those of people decades younger?
First identified in 2007 by scientists at Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center (Illinois, USA), cognitive “SuperAgers” have memories that are as sharp as those of healthy persons decades younger. Changiz Geula and colleagues reveal the physiological characteristics of these SuperAger brains that enable this cognitive preservation. Brain MRI scans and histological analyses reveal that the SuperAger brain signature has three common components when compared with normal persons of similar ages: a thicker region of the cortex; significantly fewer tangles (a primary marker of Alzheimer's disease) and an ample abundant supply of a specific neuron – known as von Economo – linked to higher social intelligence. The study authors report that: “reduced vulnerability to the age-related emergence of Alzheimer pathology and higher von Economo neuron density in anterior cingulate cortex may represent biological correlates of high memory capacity in advanced old age.”
Gefen T, Peterson M, Papastefan ST, Martersteck A, Whitney K, Rademaker A, Bigio EH, Weintraub S, Rogalski E, Mesulam MM, Geula C. “Morphometric and histologic substrates of cingulate integrity in elders with exceptional memory capacity.” J Neurosci. 2015 Jan 28;35(4):1781-91.