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Aging brains are different in humans and chimpanzees
Date:7/27/2011

, the study compared humans from age 22 to 88 and chimpanzees from age 10 to 51. For both species, this encompassed the whole adult lifespan under natural conditions. Humans have a longer lifespan than chimpanzees. In the wild, the lifespan of chimpanzees is about 45 at the oldest. With medical care in captivity, they can live into their 60s. On the other hand, humans without access to modern medical care and who live in traditional hunter-gatherer societies can live to their mid-80s.

The researchers 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 chimpanzees and 87 adult humans.

"Traits that distinguish humans from other primates include enlargement of the brain and increased longevity," they write in the report "Aging of the Cerebral Cortex Differs Between Humans and Chimpanzees."

Consequently, they say, humans are unique among animals in being susceptible to certain neuropathologies, such as Alzheimer's disease, in the later stages of life. Even in the absence of disease, however, healthy aging in humans is marked by variable degrees of neural deterioration and cognitive impairment.

"This is an excellent example of research that has implications for societal benefits," said NSF Physical Anthropology Program Officer Kaye Reed. "While Dr. Sherwood and colleagues are interested in the evolutionary significance of brain differences between chimpanzees and humans, the results of this research can be used as a basis to explore degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's, in a medical context."

"This research points to the uniqueness of how severe brain aging is in humans," said Sherwood. "While there are certainly many similarities between humans and other animals in the degenerative processes that occur in the brain, our research indicates that even
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Contact: Bobbie Mixon
bmixon@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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