July 27, 2011

USA: Brain Shrinkage: It's Only Human

NEW YORK, NY / The Wall Street Journal / Health Industry / July 26, 2011

Study Finds Chimpanzees, Our Closest Animal Kin, Aren't Affected by the Oddity of Aging; We Are Very Weird Animals

By Robert Lee Hotz


Human brains shrink as people grow old, unlike even our closest animal relative, says a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that highlights what researchers call the unique character of human aging.

The human brain normally can shrink up to 15% as it ages, a change linked to dementia, poor memory and depression. Until now, researchers had assumed this gradual brain loss in later years was universal among primates.

Researcher Chet Sherwood, holding a chimpanzee brain, said his study found no significant loss of brain.  Jessica McConnell Burt / George Washington University

But in the first direct comparison of humans to chimpanzees, a brain-scanning team led by George Washington University anthropologist Chet Sherwood found that chimpanzees don't experience such brain loss. From that, researchers concluded that only people are afflicted by this oddity of longevity.

"We are very weird animals," said Emory University anthropologist Todd Preuss at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, who wasn't involved in the study. "Among neuroscientists, the assumption has been that species are all the same, but this shows there is something really unusual about the late-life biology of the human species."

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Robert Lee Hotz at sciencejournal@wsj.com

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