The effects of normal aging on myelin and nerve fibers: a review.

Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Boston University School of Medicine, 715, Albany Street, Boston, MA 02118, USA.
Journal of Neurocytology (Impact Factor: 1.94). 09/2002; 31(8-9):581-93. DOI: 10.1023/A:1025731309829
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT It was believed that the cause of the cognitive decline exhibited by human and non-human primates during normal aging was a loss of cortical neurons. It is now known that significant numbers of cortical neurons are not lost and other bases for the cognitive decline have been sought. One contributing factor may be changes in nerve fibers. With age some myelin sheaths exhibit degenerative changes, such as the formation of splits containing electron dense cytoplasm, and the formation on myelin balloons. It is suggested that such degenerative changes lead to cognitive decline because they cause changes in conduction velocity, resulting in a disruption of the normal timing in neuronal circuits. Yet as degeneration occurs, other changes, such as the formation of redundant myelin and increasing thickness suggest of sheaths, suggest some myelin formation is continuing during aging. Another indication of this is that oligodendrocytes increase in number with age. In addition to the myelin changes, stereological studies have shown a loss of nerve fibers from the white matter of the cerebral hemispheres of humans, while other studies have shown a loss of nerve fibers from the optic nerves and anterior commissure in monkeys. It is likely that such nerve fiber loss also contributes to cognitive decline, because of the consequent decrease in connections between neurons. Degeneration of myelin itself does not seem to result in microglial cells undertaking phagocytosis. These cells are probably only activated when large numbers of nerve fibers are lost, as can occur in the optic nerve.

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Previous investigations into whether the APOE-ε4 allele exerts cognitive effects at midlife have been inconclusive. We have advanced a “cognitive phenotype” hypothesis arguing that the ε4 allele of the apolipoprotein E gene (APOE) is associated with lower efficiency of neuronal plasticity thereby resulting in poorer cognitive performance independently of the pathology of Alzheimer's disease (Greenwood et al., ). This hypothesis is best tested at midlife, prior to the neuron loss associated with AD diagnosis. This hypothesis predicts that the ε4 allele would alter cognition regardless of age through plasticity mechanisms, but would not induce longitudinal decline in midlife. The alternative “prodrome” hypothesis predicts that the APOE-ε4 allele would be associated with longitudinal cognitive decline as early as midlife due to prodromal effects of AD. We tested these hypotheses with a working memory task in a large cross-sectional sample of cognitively screened APOE-ε4 carriers and non-carriers and also in a small longitudinal sample over 3 years. The sample was divided into middle-aged (mean age 50, range 40–59) and older (mean age 69, range 60–84) individuals. Cross-sectionally, we observed that older, but not middle-aged, APOE-ε4 carriers had lower accuracy than ε4 non-carriers, mainly under the hardest discrimination condition. Longitudinally, we observed increases in accuracy in middle-aged APOE-ε4 carriers, suggesting a cognitive phenotype that includes ability to benefit from experience. We observed a longitudinal decrease in older APOE-ε4 carriers, suggesting an AD prodrome.
    Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 06/2014; 55(3). · 1.29 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Previous studies have presented qualitative and quantitative data regarding the morphological changes that occur peripherally in myelin sheaths and nerve fibers of rats during their lifespan. However, studies on ultrastructural features of myelinated fibers (MFs) in the central nervous system (CNS) remain limited. In the present study, morphological analyses of the somatic sensorimotor MFs in rats at time‑points between postnatal day 14 and postnatal month (PNM) 26 were conducted using electron microscopy. Significant alterations in the myelin sheath were observed in the sensorimotor system of aging and aged rats, which became aggravated with age. The ultrastructural pattern of myelin lamellae also exhibited age dependence. The transformation of the myelin intraperiod line from complete to incomplete fusion occurred after PNM 5, leading to an expansion of periodicity in myelin lamellae. These pathological changes in the myelin structure occurred very early and showed a significant correlation with age, indicating that myelin was the part of the CNS with the highest susceptibility to the influence of aging, and may be the main target of aging effects. In addition to the myelin breakdown, continued myelin production and remyelination were observed in the aging sensorimotor system, suggesting the presence of endogenous mechanisms of myelin repair.
    Molecular Medicine Reports 05/2014; · 1.17 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Accurate memory for discrete events is thought to rely on pattern separation to orthogonalize the representations of similar events. Previously, we reported that a behavioral index of pattern separation was correlated with activity in the hippocampus (dentate gyrus, CA3) and with integrity of the perforant path, which provides input to the hippocampus. If the hippocampus operates as part of a broader neural network, however, pattern separation would likely also relate to integrity of limbic tracts (fornix, cingulum bundle, and uncinate fasciculus) that connect the hippocampus to distributed brain regions. In this study, healthy adults (20-89 years) underwent diffusion tensor imaging and completed the Behavioral Pattern Separation Task-Object Version (BPS-O) and Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT). After controlling for global effects of brain aging, exploratory skeleton-wise and targeted tractography analyses revealed that fornix integrity (fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, and radial diffusivity; but not mode) was significantly related to pattern separation (measured using BPS-O and RAVLT tasks), but not to recognition memory. These data suggest that hippocampal disconnection, via individual- and age-related differences in limbic tract integrity, contributes to pattern separation performance. Extending our earlier work, these results also support the notion that pattern separation relies on broad neural networks interconnecting the hippocampus.
    Cerebral Cortex 05/2014; · 6.83 Impact Factor


Available from