The glymph system

By John Pastor • Published: January 7th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Modern understanding of the lymphatic system … a network of vessels that removes waste products from the body and supports the immune system … goes back to the 15th century.

Will the 21st century be known for the discovery of the “glymphatic” system?

Researchers with the University of Rochester Medical Center discovered this previously unobserved cleansing network by tracking the movement of cerebrospinal fluid in the brains of living mice.

Housecleaning in the brain has been suspected to be accomplished through diffusion, a process that spreads debris from areas of high concentration to less cluttered surroundings.

Think of how a lump of sugar dissolves evenly in a cup of water.

But when scientists used a method called 2-photon laser scanning microscopy (MY CROSS COP-EE) to take a closer look at what was really happening in the brain, they found not diffusion, but drains.

Cerebrospinal fluid was moving through channels, removing waste products from the brain, much as dead cells and other waste in the body are carried away by clear fluid called lymph in the lymphatic system.

The researchers called the brain drains the “glymph system,” because of the helpful presence of important brain cells known as “glia.” (GLEE-AH)

In additional experiments, normal mice and mice with faulty glymph systems were injected with a type of protein known to clog the brain in Alzheimer’s patients.

Normal brains cleared the protein rapidly, while impaired brains struggled with the toxic clumps.

Researchers speculate that problems with this newly discovered neural plumbing may cause waste to build up to hazardous levels in the brain, contributing to stroke, traumatic injury and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

With neurological disorders striking an estimated 50 million Americans each year, the glymphatic system may soon receive more emphatic attention.