Changes in neuronal DNA content variation in the human brain during aging

Aging Cell. 2012 Aug;11(4):628-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-9726.2012.00826.x. Epub 2012 May 24.


The human brain has been proposed to represent a genetic mosaic, containing a small but constant number of neurons with an amount of DNA exceeding the diploid level that appear to be generated through various chromosome segregation defects initially. While a portion of these cells apparently die during development, neurons with abnormal chromosomal copy number have been identified in the mature brain. This genomic alteration might to lead to chromosomal instability affecting neuronal viability and could thus contribute to age-related mental disorders. Changes in the frequency of neurons with such structural genomic variation in the adult and aging brain, however, are unknown. Here, we quantified the frequency of neurons with a more than diploid DNA content in the cerebral cortex of normal human brain and analyzed its changes between the fourth and ninth decades of life. We applied a protocol of slide-based cytometry optimized for DNA quantification of single identified neurons, which allowed to analyze the DNA content of about 500 000 neurons for each brain. On average, 11.5% of cortical neurons showed DNA content above the diploid level. The frequency of neurons with this genomic alteration was highest at younger age and declined with age. Our results indicate that the genomic variation associated with DNA content exceeding the diploid level might compromise viability of these neurons in the aging brain and might thus contribute to susceptibilities for age-related CNS disorders. Alternatively, a potential selection bias of "healthy aging brains" needs to be considered, assuming that DNA content variation above a certain threshold associates with Alzheimer's disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / genetics
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Aneuploidy
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cell Count
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics
  • Cellular Senescence / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Chromosomal Instability
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / metabolism*


  • DNA