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Neurology: How our brain grows and shrinks

As we age, we turn gray and our skin becomes wrinkled - we can watch this process, in contrast to the aging of our brain, which is noticeable through mental degradation. With the help of magnetic resonance imaging, however, scientists from Stanford University have now been able to take a look at our thinking apparatus and show how it changes as life progresses. Jason Yeatman and Co examined 24 brain regions of people between 7 and 85 years of age and focused on the white matter in the brain: nerve fibers, the white color of which is caused by the myelin sheaths of the tissue. It plays an important role in brain development and, if it develops incorrectly, could lead to the development of autism or schizophrenia, among others.

According to the analyzes by Yeatman and Co, the volume of the white matter increases up to around the age of 40 and then shrinks again. After all, 85-year-olds have just as much of it as seven-year-olds. However, not all 24 regions age equally quickly or uniformly. Instead, they differ significantly: Sections associated with learning and thinking show significantly steeper curves - they degrade faster from a certain age. Other regions, such as those that control movement, change only very slowly over a lifetime: their curves are like very long, gentle arcs. With their data, the neurologists developed standard curves. Deviations from this could then indicate neurodegenerative developments. Multiple skelorosis, for example, announces itself across many of the 24 brain regions through a steeper curve - without lesions already becoming visible.