The headlines might mention that the age of 13 is when your brain stops making cells. Leaving us with the horrifying idea that we’re at our most intelligent at the age of 13, and it’s all downhill from there. Let’s say it together – No!
So to answer the question, scientists at UCSF (University of California at San Francisco) conducted a study. And to understand the study, a little background comes in handy.
A Little Background
Here are some facts and definitions that might help make the study clearer:
- A stem cell, precursor cell, progenitor cell – they all mean the same thing. These are the cells that create neurons.
- Neurons are brain cells that transmit information; they make up the web of communication that makes your brain work. And immature neurons have a greater ability than mature neurons to make connections.
- Neurogenesis is the birth and growth of neurons. When your brain stops making cells, it’s another way of saying neurogenesis has stopped.
- The hippocampus is a tiny area of the brain responsible for learning and long-term memory.
- Once a stem cell creates a “baby” neuron, the immature neuron needs to move to where it’s needed and start making connections.
- The study was based on 59 tissue samples taken from deceased persons and from living surgery patients.
Researchers examined tissue from the hippocampus of 59 people of different ages. They were looking for stem cells and immature neurons. Those would indicate that the hippocampus was creating new neurons. They were looking for evidence of neurogenesis.
Well, what they didn’t find was any stem cells or immature neurons in any tissue sample of anyone over the age of 13. In fact, from the youngest person’s sample until the age 13 sample, there were fewer and fewer stem cells and immature neurons.
So What Does It Mean?
It may not mean our brains peak at 13. More research is needed, especially since this contradicts earlier research, which has found neurogenesis in the hippocampus. And some scientists question whether the samples might have been of poor quality.
More research is needed. And until more research is done, let’s refuse to acknowledge that we peaked at 13!