How does the brain change throughout our lives? Are there differences in the development and aging of the brain between men and women? To find out, researchers from the CNRS, the University of Bordeaux in France and the Polytechnic University of Valencia in Spain analyzed nearly 3,000 MRIs of people from all ages, ranging from a baby of a few months to a person over 90 years old. They followed the evolution of several cerebral structures (for example: the hippocampus) and the tissues composing the brain (like the gray matter). This is the first time that such a large number of MRIs covering such a large period of life is being used.
The brains of men atrophy faster after 80 years
To carry out this study, the researchers used the volBrain platform they built in 2015, a tool that has enabled the analysis of more than 53,000 brain MRIs for more than 1,500 users worldwide since 2015.
The results of the study yielded the normal values of each brain structure for a given age and sex. “This work therefore offers a valuable tool for helping to diagnose neurological conditions,” the researchers explained in a statement. “By providing a frame of reference, this study makes it possible to verify whether the volumes of brain structures of a new patient are in the normal or not,” the statement added. For example, a lower than expected volume of the hippocampus may indicate a possible case of Alzheimer’s.
In addition, the study also showed that there are differences in the evolution of the brain of men and women. Among other results, it appears that the female brain reaches its peak of maturity before that of men and that the speed at which the brain atrophies is greater in men than women after 80 years.
A decrease of the cortical gray matter between 1 and 10 as well as the widening of the ventricles containing cerebrospinal fluid between 60 and 90 years can be noticed. In the coming months, the team will continue its work on the study of the brain but this time in the context of Alzheimer’s disease. They will try to find out when the evolution of healthy brain cells and pathological brain cells diverges.