Newborn neurons derived from radial glia-like stem cells located in the dentate gyrus integrate into the adult hippocampal circuitry and participate in memory formation, spatial learning, pattern separation, fear conditioning, and anxiety. This process takes place throughout the life span of mammals, including humans; however, it follows a sharp declining curve. New neurons are generated abundantly during youth but very scarcely in the aged brain. The absolute number of newly generated neurons, or neurogenic output, is determined at different levels along the neurogenic cascade: the activation of quiescent stem cells; the mitotic potential of proliferating precursors; and the survival of neuronal fate-committed precursors. A continuous depletion of the hippocampal neural stem cell pool has been recently proposed as the main force underlying the age-related decline of neurogenesis, in contrast to the previous view of population of neural stem cells whose number remains constant but loses its ability to bear fruit. Nevertheless, the diminished neurogenic output may be reflecting other phenomena such as decreased mitotic capability of proliferating progenitors, decreased survival or changes in differentiation. We describe herein the most important events in determining the amount of neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus and examine the literature to understand the effects of age throughout the cascade.
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