Age may not be a state of mind, but the brain is definitely involved. That’s the conclusion of a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, which provides compelling evidence that a specific structure in the brain, called the hypothalamus, plays a significant role in controlling the entire body’s aging. The results suggest stem cells play a critical role, but only in part via their ability to generate new neurons.
The results come from researchers at the Bronx’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. They, along with several other labs, have generated evidence that suggested the hypothalamus played a key role in aging. That makes a certain amount of sense: aging is a systemic process, and the hypothalamus contains structures like the pituitary that release hormones that influence the entire body. And there’s already been some indications that factors that control the dynamics of aging end up circulating through the blood.
Aging and stem cells
But what controls the timing of aging? One intriguing possibility is that neural stem cells are involved. These stem cells continue to divide and produce new neurons even after the brain is fully developed, but their numbers appear to go down over time (possibly because more of them produce new neurons than are replaced by cell divisions). If the key factors are produced by neural stem cells, then their levels should go down over time, allowing aging to proceed.