Aging and the human neocortex

Exp Gerontol. 2003 Jan-Feb;38(1-2):95-9. doi: 10.1016/s0531-5565(02)00151-1.


Neurostereology has been applied to quantitative anatomical study of the human brain. Such studies have included the total neocortical number of neurons and glial cells, the estimated size distribution of neocortical neurons, the total myelinated fiber length in the brain white matter, the total number of synapses in the neocortex, and the effect of normal aging on these structural elements. The difference in total number of neurons was found to be less than 10% over the age range from 20 to 90 years, while the glial cell number in six elderly individuals, mean age 89.2 years, showed an average number of 36 billion glial cells, which was not statistically significantly different from the 39 billion glial cells in the neocortex of six young individuals with a mean age of 26.2 years. The total myelinated fiber length varied from 150,000 to 180,000 km in young individuals and showed a large reduction as a function of age. The total number of synapses in the human neocortex is approximately 0.15 x 10(15) (0.15 quadrillion). Although the effect of aging is seen in all estimated structural elements, the effect of sex is actually higher. The functional relevance of these differences in neuron numbers in both age and gender is not known.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Size
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neocortex / cytology*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / ultrastructure
  • Neuroglia / cytology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Synapses / ultrastructure