Aging of the Cerebral Cortex Differs Between Humans and Chimpanzees

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Several biological changes characterize normal brain aging in humans. Although some of these age-associated neural alterations are also found in other species, overt volumetric decline of particular brain structures, such as the hippocampus and frontal lobe, has only been observed in humans. However, comparable data on the effects of aging on regional brain volumes have not previously been available from our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees. In this study, we used MRI to measure the volume of the whole brain, total neocortical gray matter, total neocortical white matter, frontal lobe gray matter, frontal lobe white matter, and the hippocampus in a cross-sectional sample of 99 chimpanzee brains encompassing the adult lifespan from 10 to 51 y of age. We compared these data to brain structure volumes measured in 87 adult humans from 22 to 88 y of age. In contrast to humans, who showed a decrease in the volume of all brain structures over the lifespan, chimpanzees did not display significant age-related changes. Using an iterative age-range reduction procedure, we found that the significant aging effects in humans were because of the leverage of individuals that were older than the maximum longevity of chimpanzees. Thus, we conclude that the increased magnitude of brain structure shrinkage in human aging is evolutionarily novel and the result of an extended lifespan.




National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America