SuperAger brains contain ‘super neurons’: Post-mortem brains of SuperAgers reveal significantly larger neurons in memory region

Neurons in an area of the brain responsible for memory (known as the entorhinal cortex) were significantly larger in SuperAgers compared to cognitively average peers, individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and even individuals 20 to 30 years younger than SuperAgers — who are aged 80 years and older, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

These neurons did not harbor tau tangles, a signature hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The remarkable observation that SuperAgers showed larger neurons than their younger peers may imply that large cells were present from birth and are maintained structurally throughout their lives,” said lead author Tamar Gefen, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We conclude that larger neurons are a biological signature of the SuperAging trajectory.”

The study of SuperAgers with exceptional memory was the first to show that these individuals carry a unique biological signature that comprises larger and healthier neurons in the entorhinal cortex that are relatively void of tau tangles (pathology).

The study will be published Sept. 30 in The Journal of Neuroscience.

The Northwestern SuperAging Research Program studies unique individuals known as SuperAgers, 80+ year-olds who show exceptional memory at least as good as individuals 20 to 30 years their junior.

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