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You know how your cells die all the time and new ones are made to replace them, so you practically have a new body every maybe 5 years?

Many people say you become a completely different person every several years, but what about neural cells, do they get replaced?
I believe it would cause a lot of information to get lost if this happened.

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    $\begingroup$ I just would like to comment that while others have, correctly, emphasized the existence of neurogenesis, it is more the exception than the rule. Outside the hippocampus and confined cortical regions, typically neurons do not regenerate. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Nov 15 '14 at 14:26
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By brain cells, I'll assume you mean neurons (the other type are called glial cells). Yes, new neurons arise in a least certain parts of the brain, and yes, they do cause memories to weaken or disappear. This has been shown in mice, guinea pigs and degus.

It would be wrong to assume that neurogenesis occurs with the frequency of, say, gastric cell or skin turnover. Up until recently, it was not thought to occur at all.

Learning and remembering use various cortical structures, including the hippocampus.Throughout life, new neurons (neurogenesis) are continuously added to the dentate gyrus. These additions remodel hippocampal circuits, and when this occurs after memory formation, this neurogenesis leads to degradation or forgetting of established memories. This was shown in adult mice. Conversely, decreasing neurogenesis after memory formation decreased forgetting.[1]

It is not only plasticity that makes the brain adaptable to continuous changes in environmental demands. Adult-born neurons integrate into preexisting neuronal networks and participate in information processing. Adult neurogenesis itself is a type of circuit plasticity required for hippocampus-dependent learning and memory recall. Adult hippocampal neurogenesis may also promote forgetting.[2]

The more neurogenesis there is, the more memories are broken down. Since we retain many memories over our lifetime, it's pretty safe to say out brains don't "turn over" every five years (or even over longer periods); some parts of our brain don't seem to undergo neurogenesis at all.[3]

[1] Hippocampal Neurogenesis Regulates Forgetting During Adulthood and Infancy Science 9 May 2014
[2] A Price to Pay for Adult Neurogenesis Science 9 May 2014
[3] Neurogenesis in the Adult Brain The Journal of Neuroscience February 1, 2002

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  • $\begingroup$ I liked that article [1]. Forgetfulness of babies explained. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Nov 16 '14 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting! Is there any data on increase in brain size due to neurogenesis (in micro or perhaps millimeters?) $\endgroup$ – One Face Jan 31 '15 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ What about other neurons, which are not involved in adult neurogenesis? How frequently are they replaced? $\endgroup$ – Sleepy Hollow Jul 6 '17 at 19:23
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Addition to anongoodnurse's answer.

Different organisms have different numbers of neurogenic niches (regions where neurons form). For example zebrafish[1] has six niches compared to two in mammals and it is known to have active neurogenesis throughout life. In mammals, apart from the dentate gyrus (subgranular zone) of hippocampus, the other prominent neurogenic niche is the subventricular zone (SVZ) - the region adjoining the ventricles. Immature neurons born at the SVZ migrate to olfactory bulb via the rostral migratory stream[2, 3].

You can also refer to this detailed review [4] on Adult Neurogenesis.


References:

[1] Lindsey, Benjamin W., Audrey Darabie, and Vincent Tropepe. "The cellular composition of neurogenic periventricular zones in the adult zebrafish forebrain." Journal of Comparative Neurology 520.10 (2012): 2275-2316.
[2] Pencea, Viorica, et al. "Neurogenesis in the subventricular zone and rostral migratory stream of the neonatal and adult primate forebrain." Experimental neurology 172.1 (2001): 1-16.
[3] Bath KG, Lee FS. "Neurotrophic Factor Control of Adult SVZ Neurogenesis". Developmental neurobiology. 2010;70(5):339-349
[4] Ming, Guo-li, and Hongjun Song. "Adult neurogenesis in the mammalian brain: significant answers and significant questions." Neuron 70.4 (2011): 687-702.

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