Stereological changes in the capillary network and nerve cells of the aging human brain

Mech Ageing Dev. 1980 Sep-Oct;14(1-2):233-43. doi: 10.1016/0047-6374(80)90123-2.


Stereologic parameters of the capillaries and nerve cells of the brain cortex and putamen were investigated. Thirty-eight brains from subjects aged between 19 and 94 years were examined. All cases were free of metabolic, neurologic and psychiatric diseases. It is demonstrated that the capillary diameter remains unchanged during aging in both brain cortex and putamen. However, in the putamen the total capillary length per unit volume and the capillary volume fractions increase (approximately 60%) progressively with age. Consequently the mean inter-capillary distances in the putamen decrease (approximately 15%). These age-induced changes in the putamen indicate shrinking of subcortical brain structures. In contrast to those of the putamen, the morphometric data of the capillaries in the cortex remain unchanged during the aging process. Stereologic investigations of nerve cells in the brain cortex and putamen revealed that only in brains over 85 years of age can a significant decrease in nerve cell size be demonstrated. A correlation of all the data by a correspondence analytical procedure showed that only the surface/volume ratio of the capillaries correlates with the nerve cell size. This observation suggests a functional interaction between the nerve cells and the capillaries. From the data presented it becomes apparent that the shrinkage of the gyri in the aging brain is not a change in the volume of the cortex, but a decrease in the volume of subcortical structures.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / cytology
  • Capillaries / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Putamen / blood supply