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Your Brain Cells May Live Twice as Long as You Do

Update Date: Feb 26, 2013 10:56 AM EST

No matter what age you are, your cells are much younger. Your oldest skin cell is two weeks old. The most ancient red blood cell is four months old. Liver cells only last for about 17 months. The only location where that is not true is the brain. At about 18 months old, you have all of the neurons that you will ever have during your lifetime - so scientists were faced with the question of how long neurons might live. A recent study conducted by scientists from the University of Pavia and the University of Turin in Italy has found that neurons can live for even longer than you do.

According to National Geographic, the study was performed on mice and rats. Mice typically have lifespans of 18 months; rats have lifespans that are nearly double that amount of time, from 30 to 36 months. Even long-living mice, researchers explain, are unable to boost their lifespan by 38 percent - the typical lifespan of a rat. The researchers started the experiment by genetically modifying mouse embryos so that their cells would glow green. Science News reports that the researchers inserted a tiny glass needle into the abdomens of pregnant anesthetized mice. With special tools, the scientists scraped out a tiny portion of the precursors to neural cells from the mice. Then the scientists placed these neurons into the brains of fetal rats. The researchers were easily able to track the mouse neurons because they were green.

After that, the mice and rats were able to live their lives as they so pleased. When they became old and approached death, the scientists euthanized them - typically when the scientists perceived that they had two days or less to live, according to LiveScience. That way, although neurons die when we do, the scientists could have a good idea of how long the neurons lived.

They found that the mouse neurons lived for as long as the rats were alive. The neurons did thin with age, but they did not die. The rats had no neurological problems, though they were also not any more intelligent. Indeed, the neurons even were still alive when the rats died, meaning that they may have continued to survive if they were implanted into a species that had a longer lifespan.

The study's findings could help lead to treatments for degenerative neurological disorders like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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