Thursday, 4 June 2015

Brain drain

It's not often that The Blob is hot off the press.  In my relentless drive to provide copy for the interweb, I don't devote enough time to browsing what's already there to tell you about that. I've deprecated filling the interweb with re-churned material from other websites rather than putting some added value out there.  Last night The Beloved's sister asked me about a recent Nature paper (not out yet, it's that hot) [not that sister, another one in the pantheon]. One aspect of this research's interest is the everybode kno fact that all the anatomical parts have been named 100+ years ago, some of which I listed last week.

I talk a bit in my Human Physiology course about the BBB the blood brain barrier, a curious phenomenon that makes drugging some diseases difficult.  Only a very few sorts of molecule can pass from the circulatory system into the brain - clearly those need to include glucose and oxygen because the brain is an enormous consumer of energy: blurfing out 100W of heat from the skull from this activity.  If we could only turn that heat into light actually and metaphorically. But wonderdrugiamab cannot, by any trick, be induced to get into the brain and start kicking Alzheimer ass, for example.

Antoine Louveau, a post-doctoral researcher in the University of Virginia UVA lab of Jony Kipnis is clearly a good pair of hands. The lab has been studying the meninges, the multi-layer envelope of the brain that is integral to the BBB. Inflammation of the meninges causes meningitis, which causes parents and community health people to go weak at the knees because the symptoms are so distressing and they particular affect the young.  The Blob has only mentioned meningitis in passing, I'll have to give it some more attention in the future.  Louveau's key technical insight and application was to "fix" the meninges while they were intact on the inside of the skull of a mouse . . . and then dissect them out and stain them.  Because the lab is interested in the connexion between the brain and the immune system, he stained his preparation for a T-cell specific marker and then looked at his prep under the microscope. He was stunned to see the T-cells lining up across the prep. Our mind is really well-tuned to see patterns in the environment: the early humans who could see 'tiger' in a patch of jungle shadow are our ancestors, the lads who couldn't were dinner.  But psychologists know that we over-interpret random blips in our field of view to see faces so often that we've given the phenomenon a name pareidolia and this ability is key to all the optical illusions that amused us as kids.  So Louveau and Kipnis the boss forced themselves to be skeptical but eventually they convinced themselves and an editor at Nature and three referees that they had discovered an extension of the lymphatic system deep into the brain.  This is big because before this week everybode kno that the lymphatic system stopped at the neck.  The publicity people at UVA are talking large about a cure to Alzheimer's - just drain those plaques out down to a lymph node in granny's arm-pit.  But the real impact is the shake up to our certainty about how the body is constructed - that opens the shutters of our minds to think different solutions to our many problems.  I'll have to do some reading about PNI psycho-neuro-immunology over the Summer, so that my Human Physiology classes next year are up to date.

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