"Overactive neurons can shorten life span"

New research makes a molecular connection between the brain and aging — and shows that overactive neurons can shorten life span.

recently in Nature , Bruce Yankner, a professor of genetics and neurology at Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues reported on a previously overlooked controller of life span: the activity level of neurons in the brain.

In their new study, Yankner and his colleagues report that the brains of long-lived humans have unusually low levels of proteins involved in excitation, at least in comparison with the brains of people who died much younger. This finding suggests that the exceptionally old people probably had less neural firing.


The first two links don’t really say much - although they say it very well.

The third link suggests that worms with boosted levels of their version of REST (proteins named SPR-3 and SPR-4) had more controlled neural activity and lived longer.

I’m not sure if I can ask for these on the NHS - or whether they are only for worms.


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The pictures of brainscans reminded me of a similar analogy in Scott Hagwood’s book, memory power where he showed that memory training led to fewer neurons firing in a person with a trained memory.
So, if I understand correctly, memory training should be good for longevity. I am not surprised.

It’s rare that in complex systems (like in neuroscience) that you can make inferences like that. Especially across different levels of analysis (molecular level -> cognitive level). There’s normally a lot more at work than we can measure unfortunately but you may be right.


Memory training does not (directly) increase lifespan, that’s ridiculous.

A lot of the literature talks about active minds staving off dementia so this is somewhat surprising.

There a difference though between active and overactive… amyloid beta builds up faster and sleep with not clear out enough leading to amyloid plaque that has been linked to Alzheimers.

This is similar to how lactic acid is produced in your muscles and builds up during intense exercise, which can lead to painful, sore muscles. So while moderate exercise is likely good for you… running a marathon day and night constantly very likely isn’t.

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Yes but they often talk about how a certain activity fires up the neurons. For example reading aloud or doing simple arithmetic fires up neurons and they advocate this activity because it fires up neurons. They consistently take activation of brain cells as being good for you. They never say anything about don’t do it too much. That is why this finding is surprising.

You can’t really do it too much… unless of course you study something for 48h straight without sleep; but that’ll be more of an issue of being deprived of sleep rather than stimulating your neurons too much. That’s like talking about overtraining syndrome constantly to someone who’s just joined the gym. I doubt there needs to be a warning about stimulating your neurons too much.

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