Aging-associated changes in human brain

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 1997 Dec;56(12):1269-75. doi: 10.1097/00005072-199712000-00001.


A wide variety of anatomic and histological alterations are common in brains of aged individuals. However, identification of intrinsic aging changes--as distinct from changes resulting from cumulative environmental insult--is problematic. Some degree of neuronal and volume loss would appear to be inevitable, but recent studies have suggested that the magnitudes of such changes are much less than previously thought, and studies of dendritic complexity in cognitively intact individuals suggest continuing neuronal plasticity into the eighth decade. A number of vascular changes become more frequent with age, many attributable to systemic conditions such as hypertension and atherosclerosis. Age-associated vascular changes not clearly linked to such conditions include hyaline arteriosclerotic changes with formation of arterial tortuosities in small intracranial vessels and the radiographic changes in deep cerebral white matter known as "leukoaraiosis." Aging is accompanied by increases in glial cell activation, in oxidative damage to proteins and lipids, in irreversible protein glycation, and in damage to DNA, and such changes may underlie in part the age-associated increasing incidence of "degenerative" conditions such as Alzheimer disease and Parkinson disease. A small number of histological changes appear to be universal in aged human brains. These include increasing numbers of corpora amylacea within astrocytic processes near blood-brain or cerebrospinal fluid-brain interfaces, accumulation of the "aging" pigment lipofuscin in all brain regions, and appearance of Alzheimer-type neurofibrillary tangles (but not necessarily amyloid plaques) in mesial temporal structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiology
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Lipofuscin / metabolism
  • Neuroglia / cytology


  • Lipofuscin