Neurological aging: How does it impact nerve cell functions

One of the most significant changes our bodies undergo as we progress through the phases of life occurs within our nerve cells. 

The building blocks of our nervous system, sometimes called neurons and nerve cells, are in charge of processing and transferring information throughout our bodies. 

These complex cells, however, go through several changes as we age, which may affect how they communicate and operate. 

It is essential to comprehend how aging affects the function of nerve cells as it provides insight into the causes of age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders

By solving these puzzles, we learn potential methods to maintain and improve nerve cell functionality, eventually fostering healthy aging and cognitive well-being.

The structural changes that nerve cells undergo as we age can impact how they operate as a whole. 

These alterations take place on a number of levels, from the cellular building blocks to the intricate web of connections inside the nervous system. 

Understanding the effects on nerve cell function of these age-related structural changes is essential.

What are the age-related changes in nerve cell structure?
Photograph: fentonroma/Envato

Structural modifications observed in aging nerve cells

From the individual cellular building blocks to the complex web of connections that make up the nervous system, these structural alterations take place at many levels. 

The following are some significant structural modifications seen in aged nerve cells:

  • Dendritic atrophy

Age-related declines in dendritic complexity and density are common in nerve cells. 

The branching extensions known as dendrites are in charge of receiving signals from nearby neurons. 

Dendrite atrophy can impair a cell’s capacity to take in and process incoming information, impairing neural transmission [1].

  • Synaptic loss

The number of synapses, which are specialized junctions where nerve cells connect with one another, declines with age. 

This synaptic loss may result in decreased connection between neurons, which would disturb the nervous system’s information flow.

  • Axonal degeneration

With aging, the long, slender extensions of nerve cells known as axons can also experience degenerative changes. 

Communication between various parts of the nervous system can be disrupted as a result of axonal loss and fragmentation, which affects the passage of electrical signals.

Impact on neuronal connectivity

Age-related structural changes in nerve cells have a significant influence on neuronal connectivity, which is the complex network of connections and neural communication.

Here are some key impacts of age-related structural changes on neuronal connectivity:

  • Altered neural circuits

Neural circuits may change as a result of structural changes brought on by aging in nerve cells. 

The general functional structure of the nervous system may be impacted by the rewiring of neuronal connections and the loss of particular connections. 

These changes might be a factor in age-related neurological conditions such as cognitive impairment.

  • Impaired signal transmission

Aging nerve cells’ structural changes may have an impact on how well signals are transmitted. 

Slower nerve impulse conduction and decreased neuronal communication can be caused by decreased dendritic complexity, synapse loss and axonal degeneration.

The reduction in cognitive capacities seen with aging is a result of these age-related modifications in nerve cell communication. 

The transmission of signals and the integration of information inside the brain can be disrupted by decreased neurotransmitter activity and altered synaptic transmission. 

As a result, cognitive functions including memory, decision-making, and learning may suffer.

How does aging affect neuronal plasticity?

The ability of the brain to adapt and change over the course of a person’s life is referred to as neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. 

The ability of the brain to reorganize neural connections, create new synapses, and alter existing ones in response to experiences, learning and environmental influences is included. 

However, neuronal plasticity may be significantly impacted by aging, which can affect a variety of cognitive processes. 

Here are two important ways that aging affects neural plasticity:

Decline in neuroplasticity

As we age, the brain loses some of its flexibility and adaptability. 

This reduction may impair the brain’s capacity to remodel neuronal networks in response to learning, the development of memories and the healing of injuries [2]. 

Age-related cognitive decline and problems with learning and memory processes can be attributed to decreased neuroplasticity.

Impaired learning and memory processes

Learning and memory are critically reliant on neuroplasticity. These cognitive skills may suffer from changes in neuronal plasticity brought on by aging. 

For instance, it could become harder to build new memories and to remember and recall information. 

The ability of the brain to learn new abilities, adapt to new situations, and deal with changes in sensory input can all be impacted by age-related declines in neuroplasticity.

How does oxidative stress affect aging nerve cells?

The aging process is significantly influenced by oxidative stress, which also has an effect on nerve cells. 

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation and the body’s capacity to cleanse and repair the harm they cause are incompatible, which leads to oxidative stress. 

Due to a number of factors, including their high metabolic activity and weak antioxidant defense systems, aging brain cells are particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress. 

Two important features of the connection between oxidative stress and aging nerve cells are as follows:

Role of oxidative stress in aging

The aging process heavily depends on oxidative stress. ROS, which includes free radicals and other reactive chemicals, can damage biological elements over time, including proteins, lipids and DNA. 

Due to their high oxygen consumption, high lipid content, and limited potential for regeneration, nerve cells are particularly vulnerable to oxidative injury. 

This oxidative damage builds up with time and accelerates the aging of the nervous system overall by causing nerve cells to become less functioning.

Damage to nerve cells
Photograph: ktsimage/Envato

Damage to nerve cells

Damage to nerve cells from oxidative stress can be substantial. 

ROS have the ability to directly impact nerve cell organelles and cellular structure, impairing their normal function. 

For instance, oxidative stress can harm proteins and reduce their capacity to carry out essential functions, which results in malfunction in a number of cellular processes [3]. 

Additionally, lipid peroxidation brought on by oxidative stress can destabilize cell membranes, compromising their integrity and impacting general cell function. 

Oxidative stress-induced DNA damage can potentially lead to genetic alterations and impede cellular function.

What is the impact of aging on neurotransmitter systems?

The neurotransmitter systems in the brain can be significantly impacted by aging. 

Chemical messengers called neurotransmitters are essential for nerve cell communication. 

Two important neurotransmitter systems impacted by aging are listed below:

Changes in dopaminergic pathway

Movement, motivation, reward and cognitive processes are all influenced by the neurotransmitter dopamine. 

Age-related changes in the dopaminergic system are possible. 

Dopamine levels and signaling can change as a result of variations in dopamine production, release and reuptake. 

These modifications may affect cognitive processes, reward processing, motivation and age-related motor impairments including slower and stiff motions.

Serotonergic alterations in aging

Another neurotransmitter that controls mood, sleep, hunger and emotional health is serotonin. 

Age-related changes in the serotonergic system can affect serotonin levels and function. Imbalances in serotonin signaling may come from problems with serotonin production, release and reuptake [4]. 

These imbalances can influence changes in sleep habits, cognitive abilities and age-related mood disorders including despair and anxiety.

Age-related neurodegenerative disorders are a group of chronic, nerve-damaging illnesses that often manifest later in life. 

The slow loss of nerve cells and the impairment of several cognitive and motor abilities define these illnesses. 

Some of the common age-related neurodegenerative diseases are listed below:

Alzheimer’s disease

The most common neurodegenerative condition, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for the majority of dementia cases in older persons. 

It is characterized by an accumulation of tau tangles and beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, which results in the gradual loss of nerve cells and the decline of cognitive functions. 

Alzheimer’s disease frequently causes changes in behavior, disorientation, memory loss, and language problems.

Parkinson’s disease

A neurodegenerative disorder that largely affects mobility is Parkinson’s disease. 

It is characterized by the death of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the substantia nigra, a part of the brain. 

Dopamine levels drop as a result, which causes tremors, stiffness, bradykinesia (slow movement) and postural instability as motor symptoms. 

Parkinson’s disease can also include cognitive impairment, mood changes, autonomic dysfunction, and motor symptoms.

Huntington’s disease

The central nervous system is predominantly affected by the inherited neurodegenerative condition known as Huntington’s disease (HD). 

The huntingtin (HTT) gene mutation that results in the production of an aberrant huntingtin protein is the cause of the condition. 

Progressive nerve cell degeneration, particularly in the brain’s basal ganglia and cerebral cortex, is a hallmark of HD. 

These regions are essential for processing emotions, thinking, and motor control. Individuals gradually lose various cognitive and physical abilities as the condition worsens.

Vascular dementia

Reduced blood supply to the brain causes brain cells to die, which results in vascular dementia, a neurodegenerative disease. 

It is often brought on by a string of minor strokes or by diseases like diabetes or hypertension that disrupt the blood arteries in the brain.

Although the signs of vascular dementia might differ, thinking, memory and problem-solving challenges are frequently present. 

The level of brain injury and its location determine how severe the symptoms are.


As people age, neurological conditions linked to aging present significant concerns. 

The gradual loss of nerve cells in these conditions, which include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and vascular dementia affects a variety of cognitive and physical abilities.

Age continues to be a significant risk factor even though the precise origins and processes of many illnesses are still being studied. 

It is essential to comprehend these conditions and how they influence nerve cell activity in order to enhance diagnosis, provide effective treatments and help those who are impacted and their loved ones. 

The complexity of these conditions is still being studied in order to develop better treatment plans and potentially make significant advancements.


What impact does aging have on the brain?

Along with an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases, these changes include a reduction in cognitive skills like memory and processing speed. Neurotransmitter systems, synaptic plasticity, and general brain connectivity can all be impacted by age-related changes as well.

What are the effects of aging on sensory function?

Individuals can experience a decrease in sensory acuity as they get older, including poor eyesight, hearing loss, and reduced touch sensitivity. One’s capacity to detect and understand sensory information from the environment may be impacted by these changes.

What senses decrease with changes in the nervous system from aging?

The most often impacted senses are hearing and vision. Age-related changes can cause hearing loss, especially at higher frequencies, as well as vision impairments such presbyopia, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration. Although to a lesser amount, other senses including taste, smell, and touch might also deteriorate.


Photograph: LightFieldStudios/Envato
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