Neuroscience has made many amazing strides toward understanding the brain in the last decades but it’s clear that there’s still a lot more to uncover. Thankfully, new findings are made quite often like this amazing video that shows waves of spinal fluid flooding a sleeping brain (1).
The fluid is called cerebrospinal fluid (2) and it goes to work every time our brains go to sleep. Its main function seems is to wash away any toxins that have built up in our brains throughout the day.
The team from the Boston University believes these findings could help treat a variety of neurological and psychological disorders, particularly for people with disrupted sleep patterns (3).
Laura Lewis, a neuroscientist from the Boston University says that “We’ve known for a while that there are these electrical waves of activity in the neurons. But before now, we didn’t realize that there are actually waves in the CSF, too.”
This isn’t the first study to pose that CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) has an important waste-removal function (4), however, until now scientist didn’t know about the pulsing pattern that pushes the fluid through the brain. This CSF pulsation, together with the slowing down of brain activity when we sleep (5), seems vital for fixing our memories in place which is also likely connected to why we dream.
“It’s such a dramatic effect,” says Lewis. “[CSF pulsing] was something we didn’t know happened at all, and now we can just glance at one brain region and immediately have a readout of the brain state someone’s in.”
One remaining question is how exactly CSF, brain waves and blood flow are getting into sync so effectively. It could be that as neurons shut down for the night, they don’t need as much blood – and as the blood drains out, pressure in the brain is maintained by the influx of CSF.
“That’s just one possibility,” says Lewis. “What are the causal links? Is one of these processes causing the others? Or is there some hidden force that is driving all of them?”