Effects of aging on the neurons within area 17 of rhesus monkey cerebral cortex



A light and electron microscopic examination of area 17 of the visual cortex in well-fixed young (5-6 years) and old (25–35 years) rhesus monkeys was carried out to determine the effects of age on neurons. The analyses were made in a portion of area 17 on the lateral surface of the hemisphere just caudal to the lunate sulcus. Light microscopic measurements of the mean cortical depth in vertically oriented 1-μ-thick sections reveal no obvious thinning with age, and the mean diameters of neuronal nuclei do not change with age. On the basis of counts of neuronal profiles containing nuclei in 250-μ-wide strips of 1-μ-thick sections passing through the entire depth of the cortex, no significant neuronal loss could be detected. These findings are consistent with our electron microscopic observations on this area of the cortex, for in the old monkeys the neurons show little cytological evidence of advanced age beyond the presence of a few lipofuscin granules, although the neuropil contains some profiles of degenerating small-caliber dendrites, myelinated axons, and a few axon terminals. Large vacuoles, some 10 μm or more in diameter, are present in the neuropil of the old animals. Some of these vacuoles appear to represent a late stage in the degeneration of myelinated axons, for they are bounded by a thin, laminated sheath. Other large vacuoles, of unknown origin, often contain membranous debris and have an attenuated limiting membrane. It is concluded that the cell bodies of neurons in area 17 of old rhesus monkeys do not show singificant structural changes due to age, although some of the neuronal processes in the neuropil are affected.