Purified myelin of human brain from 15 young adult (below 50 years of age) and old (above 70 years of age) autopsy cases each was examined by isopycnic centrifugation in continuous sucrose gradients, and for lipid composition. The mean buoyant density of myelin was the same in both groups. Apparent features of old age were a wide range of density values, less compact myclin bands, and the dissociation of myelin into two bands in six of 15 old cases. Lipid analyses of randomly selected myelin samples of each group revealed an inverse relationship between the total lipid to protein ratio and density of myelin. In old age total lipids decreased by an average 10 mol lipid per mol. protein. This decrease was accounted for by cholestrol, phosphatidylserine and cerebrosides. Changes in fatty acid moieties mainly affected sphingolipids. C20: 0 and C24: 0 of sphingomyelin increased, as did even more markedly the more hydrophilic OH-fatty acids of cerebrosides. Correlations with buoyant density existed for the ratios of cholesterol to protein in young adult cases, and those of galactolipids to protein in cold cases. The results suggest that old age is associated with impaired stability and altered lipid composition of myelin. © 1989.
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