The vascular endothelium maintains the lining of all 60,000 miles of our blood vessels, even the vessels inside the brain. It is the largest secreting organ in the human body. Neurological researchers had postulated that endothelial cells were not as important in maintaining blood flow inside the brain--that the brain itself was responsible for initiating cerebral blood flow according to neuronal health. But this theory was wrong.
The brain relies on healthy blood vessels to maintain healthy cerebral blood flow.
The brain was thought to use a different mechanism--and this has lead neurological researchers to focus on the cells surrounding blood vessels in the brain.
According to researcher and professor of biomedical engineering, Elizabeth M.C. Hillman, this supposition has lead to incorrect ideas on brain health.
“Once we realized the importance of endothelial signaling in the regulation of blood flow in the brain,” Hillman adds, “we wondered whether overlooking the vascular endothelium might have led researchers to misinterpret their results.”
Dr. Hillman has spent the past 10 years using advanced medical technology, to study how blood flow is controlled in the brain. Her research team was comprised of a multi-disciplinary members. Other lab members who assisted with the study included PhD and MD/PhD students from Columbia Engineering, Neurobiology and Behavior, and Columbia University Medical Center. The group combined their engineering skills with their expertise in neuroscience, biology, and medicine to understand this new aspect of brain physiology.
The researchers damaged the endothelial layer of cells, causing oxidative stress. After this damage, the blood vessel was no longer able to dilate past the damaged point. This process restricted blood flow to the neurons.
The damaged endothelium is what initiated lowered blood flow, also known as hypoperfusion. We see hypoperfusion in MS, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and dementia.
MS experts have maintained that it is the death of neurons in the brain caused by the unknown disease process we currently call "multiple sclerosis", which leads to a lowered need for cerebral blood flow. Their assumption has been that the hypoperfusion of the MS brain (which is a scientifically documented fact) is due to MS.
But what if this chicken and egg supposition has been wrong? Have 70 years of EAE postulation and drug development placed the focus on the wrong cells?
Dr. Hillman is urging other researchers to join her in the pursuit of understanding how the vascular endothelium and brain health are connected.
“Our latest finding gives us a new way of thinking about brain disease—that some conditions assumed to be caused by faulty neurons could actually be problems with faulty blood vessels,” Hillman adds. “This gives us a new target to focus on to explore treatments for a wide range of disorders that have, until now, been thought of as impossible to treat. The brain’s vasculature is a critical partner in normal brain function. We hope that we are slowly getting closer to untangling some of the mysteries of the human brain.”
Here's the program I created for Jeff. I hope it can help you, too!