Quick Hits
Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

brain cell aging

There are, of course, many ways to help rejuvenate you brain. I have written about many of them, but they are often considered a bit “boring”: things like exercise and sleep. Trust me you shouldn’t underestimate those, but even those don’t always block the progress of various neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and this research just published has discovered a new mechanism in the brain that helps keep the brain healthy.

Many of these neurodegenerative diseases, with slow but severe decline of brain capacity and deterioration of brain function, are marked by toxic clusters of protein being collected in the brain. The system is not clearing them out and these clusters build up and impair brain function in multiple ways.

The group of researchers at Washington State University focused on cells previously little researched. They focused on immune cells that sit at the periphery of the brain – those that surround the brain and the spinal cord. The reason that these are important is that they help with the flow of spinal and brain fluid. Your brain and spinal cord are awash in fluid, and it is also through this fluid that the brain can clear out toxins.

They focused on cells called, wait for it, parenchymal border macrophages, let’s just call them PBMs. These cells help regulate the blood flow in arteries which in turn helps the flow of cleansing fluid in the brain. They therefore sit at the interface of the brain and its cleansing fluid flow. This fluid flow decreases noticeably after 50 years of age and is impaired in many neurodegenerative diseases.

Drieu et al. targeted these BPM’s by delivering a protein that reactivates their function, something called, jargon alert again, macrophage colony-stimulating factor. Jargon aside this boosted activity of these BPM’s and this increased fluid flow in the brain. This basically rejuvenated these cells and hence also some aspects of brain function particularly fluid flow and therefore detoxication ability of the brain.

However, sorry to say that this research was in mice – this means it is a long way off from anything ready for human beings – it is very early days.

However, it is fascinating to see that different targets have potential large impacts on brain function – here we can see that a set of immune cells in the brain can influence a key and general aspect of brain function and help to rejuvenate this.

But for now, the only way to rejuvenate your brain is to revert to the old-fashioned methods: exercise, cognitive activity, sleep, and nutrition. And that is something we can all do!

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Antoine Drieu, Siling Du, Steffen E. Storck, et al. 
Parenchymal border macrophages regulate the flow dynamics of the cerebrospinal fluid
Nature, 2022
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05397-3

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