New research from Newcastle University, UK, in collaboration with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, investigated the way the human brain folds and how this ‘cortical folding’ changes with age.

Linking the change in brain folding to the tension on the cerebral cortex – the outer layer of neural tissue in our brains – the team found that as we age, the tension on the cortex appears to decrease. This effect was more pronounced in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

Publishing their findings in the academic journal PNAS, the team say this new research sheds light on the underlying mechanisms which affect brain folding and could be used in the future to help diagnose brain diseases.

Lead author Dr Yujiang Wang of Newcastle University, explains:
“One of the key features of a mammalian brain is the grooves and folds all over the surface – a bit like a walnut – but until now no-one has been able to measure this folding in a consistent way.
By mapping the brain folding of over 1,000 people, we have shown that our brains fold according to a simple universal law. We also show that a parameter of the law, which is interpreted as the tension on the inside of the cortex, decreases with age.
In Alzheimer’s disease, this effect is observed at an earlier age and is more pronounced. The next step will be to see if there is a way to use the changes in folding as an early indicator of disease.”