A scientist at the University of Helsinki set out to develop a complete map of the lymphatic system and ended up making a new discovery about the human brain. A discovery that, one day, could lead to preventative treatments for a number of neurological conditions.
Kari Alitalo was studying the lymphatic systems of mice (which are quite similar to that of humans) when he found that the brain itself had not one, but two types of lymphatic systems. “These days, you don’t make discoveries like this”, said Alitalo.
The first system includes vessels that go into and around the brain, and is referred to as the lymphatic system for the brain. The second carries cerebrospinal fluid and immune cells around the brain and is involved in removing waste products. This network is referred to as the glymphatic system -- alluding to the glia, or neurons that the brain’s lymphatic vessels are made of.
The researchers have found evidence that when the two systems malfunction, the brain can become clogged with toxins and suffused with inflammatory immune cells.
Researchers have since found that the glymphatic system doesn’t work properly in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, migraines, stroke, and even glaucoma. Scientists are now looking to ways to improve glympatic flow through a variety of clinical therapies.
For now, one key to improving glymphatic performance seems to be sleeping on your side and omega-3. A study published in September by Chinese researchers reported that in mice, omega-3 fatty acids improved glymphatic functioning.