CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--MIT scientists propose that blood may help us think, in addition to its well-known role as the conveyor of fuel and oxygen to brain cells.
We hypothesize that blood actively modulates how neurons process information, explains Christopher Moore, a principle investigator in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, in an invited review in the Journal of Neurophysiology. Many lines of evidence suggest that blood does something more interesting than just delivering supplies. If it does modulate how neurons relay signals, that changes how we think the brain works.
According to Moore's Hemo-Neural Hypothesis, blood is not just a physiological support system but actually helps control brain activity. Specifically, localized changes in blood flow affect the activity of nearby neurons, changing how they transmit signals to each other and hence regulating information flow throughout the brain. Ongoing studies in Moore's laboratory support this view, showing that blood flow does modulate individual neurons.
Moore's theory has implications for understanding brain diseases such as Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Many neurological and psychiatric diseases have associated changes in the vasculature, says Moore, who is also an assistant professor in MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.
Most people assume the symptoms of these diseases are a secondary consequence of damage to the neurons. But we propose that they may also be a causative factor in the disease process, and that insight suggests entirely new treatments. For example, in epilepsy people often have abnormal blood vessels in the brain region where the seizures occur, and the hypothesis suggests this abnormal flow may induce epileptic onset. If so, drugs that affect blood flow may provide an alternative to current therapies.
The hypothesis also has important implications for functional magnetic resonanc
|Contact: Elizabeth Thomson|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology