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Species’ Longevity Depends on Brain Cell Numbers

Scientists have thought that the main determinant of maximal longevity in warm-blooded animals—which varies from as little as 2 to as many as 211 years—is a species’ metabolic rate, which is inversely related to body size. It follows that at 2 years of life, small animals with high metabolic rates are already old, but large animals with low metabolic rates are still young.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018 1:14 pm EST
"This puts the brain squarely in the center of new initiatives to promote healthy aging and wellbeing throughout the lifespan."

Scientists have thought that the main determinant of maximal longevity in warm-blooded animals—which varies from as little as 2 to as many as 211 years—is a species’ metabolic rate, which is inversely related to body size. It follows that at 2 years of life, small animals with high metabolic rates are already old, but large animals with low metabolic rates are still young.

New research published in The Journal of Comparative Neurology up-ends this theory and finds that differences in maximal longevity across bird and mammalian species are better explained by variations in the number of neurons in the brain’s cortex than by body size and metabolic rate.

Specifically, it appears that the more cortical neurons a species has, the longer it takes to mature, and the longer it lives thereafter. This may relate to the importance of the cortex not only for cognitive capabilities, but also for adaptability of physiological functions related to heart rate, respiratory rate, and metabolism.

“These new findings imply that everybody’s brains accumulate damages at a similar rate, and the longer the brain still has enough neurons that are sufficiently healthy to keep the body functioning as a well-integrated whole, the longer one lives,” said author Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel, of Vanderbilt University. “This puts the brain squarely in the center of new initiatives to promote healthy aging and wellbeing throughout the lifespan.”

Additional Information

Link to Study: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cne.24564

About Journal

Established in 1891, JCN is the oldest continually published basic neuroscience journal. Historically, as the name suggests, the journal focused on a comparison among species to uncover the intricacies of how the brain functions. In modern times, this research is called systems neuroscience where animal models are used to mimic core cognitive processes with the ultimate goal of understanding neural circuits and connections that give rise to behavioral patterns and different neural states.

Research published in JCN covers all species from invertebrates to humans, and the reports inform the readers about the function and organization of nervous systems in species with an emphasis on the way that species adaptations inform about the function or organization of the nervous systems, rather than on their evolution per se.

JCN publishes primary research articles and critical commentaries and review-type articles offering expert insight in to cutting edge research in the field of systems neuroscience; a complete list of contribution types is given in the Author Guidelines. For primary research contributions, only full-length investigative reports are desired; the journal does not accept short communications.

About Wiley

Wiley is a global leader in research and education. Our online scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly journals, and our digital learning, assessment, certification and student-lifecycle services and solutions help universities, academic societies, businesses, governments and individuals to achieve their academic and professional goals. For more than 200 years, we have delivered consistent performance to our stakeholders. The Company's website can be accessed at www.wiley.com.

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