, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 1075–1091 | Cite as

Primate aging in the mammalian scheme: the puzzle of extreme variation in brain aging

  • Caleb E. Finch
  • Steven N. Austad


At later ages, humans have high risk of developing Alzheimer disease (AD) which may afflict up to 50% by 90 years. While prosimians and monkeys show more substantial changes, the great apes brains examined show mild neurodegenerative changes. Compared with rodents, primates develop and reproduce slowly and are long lived. The New World primates contain some of the shortest as well as some of the longest-lived monkey species, while the prosimians develop the most rapidly and are the shortest lived. Great apes have the largest brains, slowest development, and longest lives among the primates. All primates share some level of slowly progressive, age-related neurodegenerative changes. However, no species besides humans has yet shown regular drastic neuron loss or cognitive decline approaching clinical grade AD. Several primates accumulate extensive deposits of diffuse amyloid-beta protein (Aβ) but only a prosimian—the gray mouse lemur—regularly develops a tauopathy approaching the neurofibrillary tangles of AD. Compared with monkeys, nonhuman great apes display even milder brain-aging changes, a deeply puzzling observation. The genetic basis for these major species differences in brain aging remains obscure but does not involve the Aβ coding sequence which is identical in nonhuman primates and humans. While chimpanzees merit more study, we note the value of smaller, shorter-lived species such as marmosets and small lemurs for aging studies. A continuing concern for all aging studies employing primates is that relative to laboratory rodents, primate husbandry is in a relatively primitive state, and better husbandry to control infections and obesity is needed for brain aging research.


Brain aging Neuropathology Primates Alzheimer disease Primate life histories Animal husbandry 



SA acknowledges the support of NIH grant R24 RR023344. CEF acknowledges the support of NIH grant P01 AG-026572. Molly Austad generously regraphed Figs. 2, 3, and 5.


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Copyright information

© American Aging Association 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center, University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Cellular and Structural Biology, Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging StudiesUniversity of Texas Health Science Center San AntonioSan AntonioUSA

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