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Scientists make breakthrough in understanding how blood pressure affects the brain

Scientists have made a breakthrough in understanding the way brain blood flow affects certain serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, migraines and even dementia.

The academics from the University of Auckland, University College London, and Bristol University, have discovered that the brain has its own blood pressure sensors that monitor and regulate its own blood flow, separate from the body-wide blood pressure control system.

The brain needs more blood than any other organ and disturbances to brain blood flow are a known cause in many diseases. For example, sustained reduction in brain blood flow is said to be a likely cause of cognitive decline, dementia, and neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

In the researchers’ animal study they found the sensors, tiny cells called astrocytes, strategically squeezed between blood vessels and nerve cells in rats’ brains. When the researchers stimulated these cells, the cells increased blood flow into the brain

“These astrocyte cells are exquisitely sensitive to reductions in brain blood flow. When blood supply is reduced, they release a chemical signal to nearby nerve cells that raise blood pressure, restoring blood flow to the brain,” said Professor Julian Paton from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.
 
“What we have discovered is that the brain has an automatic way to make sure that brain blood flow is preserved. Unfortunately, in pathological conditions, this is happening at the expense of generating higher blood pressure in the rest of the body,” he said.

The researchers say this breakthrough could have serious implications to how we treat these diseases.

Professor Alexander Gourine from University College London says: “We are very excited about this discovery. There has never been a formal description of a blood flow or blood pressure sensor within the brain before.

“Our new data identify astrocytes as brain blood flow sensors that are critically important for setting the normal level of systemic (arterial) blood pressure and in doing so ensures that the brain receives a sufficient amount of oxygen and nutrients to support the uninterrupted operation of the information processing machinery.”

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