UVic PhD student Patrick Reeson (front) and neuroscientist Craig Brown discuss images related to their brain health research. (Courtesy Craig Brown)

Breakthrough in brain health thanks to UVic researchers

New insights into clogged brain blood vessels and why we lose them

Scientists have known for years that blood vessel loss in the brain is a factor in cognitive decline, but there was mystery around why we lose them. New research at the University of Victoria has provided an explanation. This vital knowledge could one day lead to preventive and protective strategies for maintaining brain health.

The human brain contains millions of capillaries, the brain’s smallest blood vessels. These tiny capillaries regularly get clogged by cells and debris in the blood, but most clear within seconds to minutes. What happens to the ones that remain stuck was unknown until UVic neuroscientist Craig Brown and PhD student Patrick Reeson recently discovered that about 30 per cent of these clogged capillaries were pruned from the blood vessel network and never replaced.

While the human brain contains millions of capillaries, losing them is obviously a concern when it comes to brain health, says Brown, a researcher in UVic’s Division of Medical Science. Given that he and Reeson saw no evidence in their research of new capillaries springing up to replace clogged ones, Brown notes that identifying preventive and protective measures to hold onto the ones we have is essential.

“It will be important to identify new strategies to treat this problem, especially in certain conditions or situations where there is a higher risk of clogged blood vessels in the brain,” says Brown, pointing out that stroke, heart attacks and long periods under anesthesia during surgery are known risks for affecting blood flow in the brain.

“Understanding how and why you lose these capillaries is the first step. This is the first time that we’ve been able explain why this loss of blood vessels occurs,” says Reeson.

Further research into the protein’s role in the pruning process will deepen knowledge and inform future treatment approaches, says Reeson.

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