The brain floats in a sea of fluid that cushions it against injury, supplies it with nutrients and carries away waste. Disruptions to the normal ebb and flow of the fluid have been linked to neurological conditions including Alzheimer’s disease and hydrocephalus, a disorder involving excess fluid around the brain.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis created a new technique for tracking circulation patterns of fluid through the brain and discovered, in rodents, that it flows to areas critical for normal brain development and function. Further, the scientists found that circulation appears abnormal in young rats with hydrocephalus, a condition associated with cognitive deficits in children.
The findings, available online in Nature Communications, suggest that the fluid that bathes the brain — known as cerebrospinal fluid — may play an underrecognized role in normal brain development and neurodevelopmental disorders.
“Disordered cerebrospinal fluid dynamics could be responsible for the changes in brain development we see in children with hydrocephalus and other developmental brain disorders,” said senior author Jennifer Strahle, MD, an associate professor of neurosurgery, of pediatrics, and of orthopedic surgery. As a pediatric neurosurgeon, Strahle treats children with hydrocephalus at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “There’s a whole host of neurologic disorders in young children, including hydrocephalus, that are associated with developmental delays. For many of these conditions we do not know the underlying cause for the developmental delays. It is possible that in some of these cases there may be altered function of the brain regions through which cerebrospinal fluid is circulating.”