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Contrast MRI Charts Brain’s Waste Disposal

February 26, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Contrast-enhanced MRI is allowing researchers to map the process that clears waste from the brain, opening avenues for possibly understanding, predicting, and treating disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The glymphatic pathway, only recently discovered, involves cerebrospinal fluid flowing through the brain, picking up waste, then exchanging with interstitial fluid that clears the waste. Among the waste products are amyloid proteins. Amyloid plaque is found in the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and protein accumulations are associated with such other disorders as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Researchers used contrast-enhanced MRI to map the pathway in rats. Principal investigator Helene Benveniste, MD, PhD, said:

Our experiments showed proof of concept that the glymphatic pathway function can be measured using a simple and clinically relevant imaging technique.

Dr. Benveniste continued, “This technique provides a three-dimensional view of the glymphatic pathway that captures movement of waste and solutes in real time. This will help us to define the role of the pathway in clearing matter such as amyloid beta and tau proteins, which affect brain processes if they build up.”

Dr. Benveniste is professor and vice chair for research in anesthesiology at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York. She was quoted in a university news release. An open-access article about the research, with Dr. Benveniste as senior author, was published last week in theĀ Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Now the big questions become: Does dysfunction in the glymphatic pathway have anything to do with Alzheimer’s or other diseases? If so, how can we fix any problems?

To evaluate glymphatic pathway function, the journal article says, “a safe, minimally invasive imaging approach to measuring glymphatic pathway function was necessary.” For this purpose, contrast-enhanced MRI isn’t quite clinic-ready; scan time for the rats was more than two hours, for example. But that will undoubtedly change rapidly. Any tool that might be used to deal with Alzheimer’s will get lots of attention.

Related seminar: UCSF Neuro and Musculoskeletal Imaging

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