How Long Does a Neuron Live?

The cells of your body are produced and destroyed continuously. However, the same doesn't happen with the neurons in your brain. In fact, according to a recent study, they could live indefinitely.
How Long Does a Neuron Live?

Last update: 13 August, 2022

If you ask someone how long a neuron lives, they’ll probably say not long. Indeed, most of us harbor the idea that brain cells are destroyed over time, even more so if our lifestyles are unhealthy. We’re told that factors such as tobacco, lack of exercise, excessive curiosity to learn, or poor nutrition, lead to their death.

Lorenzo Magrassi, a neurosurgeon at the University of Pavia (Italy) revolutionized the world of science almost a decade ago with his findings. He claimed that neurons could live indefinitely as the key lies in the body that contains them. For example, if you lived until 150 or 160 years and were in good health, they’d still be there.

What’s more, when a person dies, they do so with a large part of their neurons intact. In fact, they’re the same ones with which they came into the world. It’s only when the body stops showing vital signs, that the neurons begin to gradually destroy themselves. This opens up a hypothesis of what could happen in the future.

If we manage to live longer and stay in good health, our brains would continue to be in optimal condition and allow us to continue creating, feeling, learning, and innovating.

It’s estimated that a neuron could live infinitely, as long as there’s no disease or accident.

Neural connections of a woman's brain symbolizing how long a neuron lives
Neuronal death doesn’t occur only due to the aging of the brain.

A neuron lives longer than you might think

The neurons in your brain are exactly the same age as you, while the cells in your body are much younger. For example, bone tissue is completely replaced every ten years and your skin loses millions of cells a day, but every month you get a new layer of them.

Something similar happens in your stomach since it’s constantly forced to renew the cells that cover it, due to its acidic environment. In essence, your body exhibits an enviable cellular youth. It’s thanks to this that you can carry out basic processes that guarantee your survival. However, your brain retains a good number of the neurons with which you came into the world.

Indeed, neurons are born when you’re born and they die when you die. Now, if you digress and think about transhumanist theories, you could ask yourself the following question: what would happen if you improved your body with bionic technology and managed to cheat death and disease? The answer is simple: your neurons would still be in good condition.

Neurons don’t have a fixed lifespan and could survive forever

Lorenzo Magrassi is a neurosurgeon at the University of Pavia and the author of a 2013 study published in the journal, PNAS. In this work, Magrassi focused on the idea that the useful life of a neuron depends on the state of the body that contains it. His experiments with mice revealed surprising data.

He implanted neurons from one mouse’s brain to another. Not only were they not destroyed by the transplant, but they survived to have a lifespan commensurate with their host. In fact, they lived for 36 more months, until the mouse died, in accordance with its average life expectancy.

Dr. Magrassi pointed out that, in reality, neurons don’t have a fixed useful life, but could live forever if they’re in a body with the ideal conditions for it. In other words, there’s no genetic programming that causes neurons to begin to be destroyed at a certain age. It’s our lifestyle and diseases that do it.

What about aging?

As we mentioned earlier, a good number of neurons live as long as you do. They’re born and die at the same time as you. Neurogenesis is the ability of certain neurons to regenerate. This happens in a few regions of the brain.

Neuronal regeneration appears in the hippocampus, the area specialized in memory and learning. But what happens as you get older? Isn’t it then that certain neurons are destroyed? The truth is that there are nuances.

As a matter of fact, researchers from the University of North Carolina explained in a study what Dr. Magrassi had already pointed out. The death of neurons is the result of neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia, as well as infectious, traumatic, immune, and inflammatory disorders.

man wondering how long a neuron lives
Diseases associated with aging are those that destroy neurons, but in the absence of them, they’d remain in perfect condition.

How long a neuron lives depends on your lifestyle… and on science

In effect, what a neuron experiences is based on aspects that you can’t always control, such as developing a disease. On the other hand, it’s also based on realities that do depend on you, such as diet, physical activity, the will to learn new things, and to connect with people.

No less interestingly, science scrutinizes the goal of lengthening life expectancy. The objective is to live longer, but in good physical condition, avoiding illnesses, ailments, and medical conditions of greater or lesser severity. The fields of genetic engineering, biotechnology, and medicine come together to address this aim.

Therefore, if you manage to live longer, keeping a healthy and fit body, your brain will remain in the same condition. Ready to continue conquering your dreams.

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  • Magrassi, L., Leto, K., & Rossi, F. (2013). Lifespan of neurons is uncoupled from organismal lifespan Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110 (11), 4374-4379 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1217505110
  • Yanuck SF. Microglial Phagocytosis of Neurons: Diminishing Neuronal Loss in Traumatic, Infectious, Inflammatory, and Autoimmune CNS Disorders. Front Psychiatry. 2019 Oct 3;10:712. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00712. PMID: 31632307; PMCID: PMC6786049.