The brain is a demanding beast. It consumes about a fifth of the body’s energy but cannot store any, so it needs constant and carefully timed nourishment from the cardiovascular system. To keep it happy, “neurovascular coupling” rapidly increases blood flow to areas of heightened neural activity – a process that is impaired in conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Despite its importance, it has been unclear how the brain and blood vessels communicate to enable neurovascular coupling.
Now, in a study published in the journal Nature, neuroscientists from Harvard Medical School, US, report the discovery of a control mechanism in the brains of mice that ensures adequate blood flow to areas of heightened neural activity in a rapid and precise manner.
Experiments reveal that arteries in the brain actively regulate neurovascular coupling in response to neural activity, and that the protein Mfsd2a, previously implicated as a key regulator of the protective blood-brain barrier, is critical for this process.
“We now have a firm handle on the mechanisms involved in neurovascular coupling, including its molecular, cellular and subcellular components, which we’ve never had before,” says senior author Chenghua Gu.
“This puts us in a position to dissect this process and determine, for example, whether the neurovascular coupling impairments that we see in diseases like Alzheimer’s are the result of a pathology or the cause.”
Related reading: Brain activity linked to longevity
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.