Research shows mental decline comes later than previously thought
Recent research from Utrecht University Medical Center (UMC Utrecht) shows that our brains decline later than previously thought. Instead of after the 25th year of life, it happens when we are between the ages of 30 and 40. The researchers published their results in nature neuroscience.
Clinical technician Dorien van Blooijs and neuroscientist Frans Leijten, along with colleagues from UMC Utrecht and Mayo Clinic, conducted research on our processing speed. Brain and how it changes as we age.
Researchers have found that, among other things, connections in our brains are becoming faster and faster: from two meters per second in four-year-olds to four meters per second in those in between the ages of thirty and forty. In other words, double. Only after that age does it slow down. “Our brains continue to develop much longer than we think,” says Van Blooijs.
The researchers also noticed differences between brain regions. The frontal lobe, the anterior part of the brain responsible for thinking and performing tasks, develops longer than the area responsible for movement. “We knew this from previous research, but now we have concrete data,” explains Van Blooijs. The growth of speed is not a straight line, but a curve.
The researchers collected the data by performing precise measurement using an electrode grid that some Epilepsy patients placed on their brain (under the skull) in preparation for epilepsy surgery. The grid consists of 60-100 measuring electrodes brain activity. “By stimulating the electrodes with a short current, we can see which brain region respond in an unusual way. Thus, we were able to create a map of which areas should and should not be removed during epilepsy surgery,” Leijten said.
The fact that the data can also teach researchers something about how our brains work is a new insight. “We’ve been collecting this data for about 20 years,” Leijten said. “It wasn’t until a few years ago that we realized that we could use unaffected areas as a model for a healthy human brain.”
Van Blooijs adds, “If you excite an electrode in one area, the reaction will happen in another. That tells you the two regions are connected. Then you can measure the time it takes for a reaction to occur.If you know the distance between two different ones brain regionyou can calculate the signal transmission rate.”
Better computer models
The results of this study provide important information about our central nervous system. Scientists have long tried to map the connections in our brains. With this information, experts can create more realistic computer models of our brains.
For these models to work, in addition to information about connections, precise values related to the speeds of those connections are needed. “We now have these numbers for the first time,” explains Leijten, “With our data, researchers can create new and better computer models to improve our understanding of us about the brain. We hope our work will not only advance epilepsy research, but also research into other brain disorders.”
Dorien van Blooijs et al, Evolutionary trajectories of transmission rates in the human brain, nature neuroscience(2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41593-023-01272-0
Utrecht University Medical Center
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