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Cellular and synaptic alterations in the aging brain

Cellular and synaptic alterations in the aging brain

Aging 2(1): 5-25

The morphological and functional impairments observed in the aging brain are discussed in the framework of theoretical concepts, such as the existence of different modalities of intercellular communication and of specific trophic features in the central nervous system. The relevance of changes at the cellular level (disappearance of neuronal cell bodies and proliferation of astroglial cells) and at the synaptic level (alterations in neurotransmitter and receptor levels) is discussed. Two, non-mutually exclusive hypotheses are advanced to explain the frequent absence of correlation between neuropathological findings and functional deficits in aged patients. According to the first, the physiological reshaping of brain circuits during aging may lead to "wrong" readjustments of neural networks (e.g. due to less effective endogenous and exogenous orienting signals) causing minor morphological alterations but marked functional deficits. The second hypothesis maintains that the absence of correlation between neuropathological and functional deficits is due to the impairment of restricted neuronal populations ("pacemaker and command neurons") which play a special role in the hierarchical organization of neuronal networks. These neurons (inter alia, peptidergic neurons) may also be involved in volume transmission (diffusion of electrical and chemical signals in the extracellular fluid to reach distant targets). Moreover, the relevance of glial cells, not only as regulators of the extracellular medium but also on the basis of their trophic links with neurons, is considered. Finally, the interplay between trophic factors and therapeutical experience for the maintenance and/or recovery of an impaired function in elderly patients is discussed.

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Accession: 039483923

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PMID: 2094356

DOI: 10.1007/bf03323891

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