Rose Eveleth | August 15, 2012,
Every day, as you move about in the world, your brain is chugging along with you. Just like any other engineer, or organ, as it works, millions of neurons firing and guiding you around, the brain builds up waste products. But for a long time it wasn’t clear where that waste went. Now, scientists think they know the answer.
They’re calling the draining pipes the “the glymphatic system” – after the glial cells that control it and the lymphatic system that it resembles. The system works like a series of pipes to funnel waste away from the brain. A new paper in Science Translational Medicine describes the system as they observed it in mice.
Researchers knew about a slower system to remove waste. A fluid called the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) moves through the brain and carries away waste through diffusion. But this new system works much faster. Senior author on the paper Maiken Nedergaard describes how the system works in the press release:
“It’s as if the brain has two garbage haulers – a slow one that we’ve known about, and a fast one that we’ve just met,” said Nedergaard. “Given the high rate of metabolism in the brain, and its exquisite sensitivity, it’s not surprising that its mechanisms to rid itself of waste are more specialized and extensive than previously realized.”
But how was there an entire structure for draining in the brain, without us knowing about it? The press release explains: