This study assesses the effects of age on the composition of the anterior commissure of the rhesus monkey. The anterior commissures of nine young (5-10 years), five middle-aged (15-20 years), and eight old (25-35 years) monkeys were examined by light and electron microscopy. In all, 90-95% of the nerve fibers in the anterior commissure are myelinated. With age, the structure of the myelin sheaths of some nerve fibers is altered. Some of the axons also show signs of degeneration and this leads to a loss of nerve fibers. Thus, in young and the middle-aged monkeys the mean number of myelinated nerve fibers in the anterior commissure is 2.2 x 10(6), while in the old monkeys the mean is 1.2 x 10(6). Increasing age is correlated with a reduction in the number of myelinated nerve fibers in the anterior commissure, an increase in the frequency of structural alterations in myelin sheaths, and an increase in the frequency of occurrence of degenerating axons. However, the number of myelinated nerve fibers is the only variable that correlates with cognition: in monkeys 5-20 years of age the fewer the number of nerve fibers the poorer the cognitive performance, as measured by our Cognitive Impairment Index (CII). The most common neuroglial cells in the anterior commissure are oligodendrocytes. They account for 86% of all neuroglial cell profiles, while astrocytes account for 9%, and microglial cells for 5% of profiles. There is no apparent change with age in the total numbers of neuroglial cells, although as they age each of the neuroglial cell types acquires some inclusions in their cytoplasm. The data, together with those from previous studies, support the concept that in aging there is a ubiquitous loss of myelinated nerve fibers from the brain and that fiber loss is preceded by alterations in the structure of many of the myelin sheaths.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.