Brain protection and monitoring provided by newly revealed anatomy


The human brain only unwillingly divulges its secrets, including the intricate nature of neuronal networks and fundamental biological processes and structures. Only recently have developments in molecular biology and neuroimaging made it possible for researchers to study the living brain at a degree of detail that was previously unachievable, solving many of its mysteries. The most recent finding is a previously unidentified part of the brain anatomy that serves as a barrier of protection and a base from which immune cells scan the brain for inflammation and infection. It was published today in the journal Science.

We now have a much better understanding of the complex role that cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) plays in supporting the brain's immune defenses in addition to transporting and removing waste from the brain thanks to the discovery of a new anatomic structure that separates and helps control the flow of CSF in and around the brain. The study focuses on the brain's protective membranes, which separate it from the body and keep it covered in CSF. The dura, arachnoid, and pia matter are the three separate layers that make up the meningeal layer, which is generally understood to be a barrier.

The subarachnoid area, which lies below the arachnoid layer, is further divided into two compartments by the newly discovered layer, which the U.S. and Danish-based research team refers to as the SLYM, or subarachnoidal lymphatic-like Membrane. While a large portion of the research in the paper discusses SLYM's role in mice, they also note that it is present in the adult human brain. The SLYM is a mesothelium-type membrane, which is also known to border the lungs and heart among other human organs. Immune cells are often housed in and around mesothelium, which also protects organs.

The SLYM also seems crucial to the brain's protective mechanisms. Immune cells are naturally present in the central nervous system, and the integrity of the membrane limits the entry of extraneous immune cells. Additionally, it appears that the SLYM is home to a unique population of immune cells from the central nervous system that use it as a surveillance platform at the brain's surface to look for infections. These and related findings imply that anomalies in SLYM function may cause or exacerbate disorders as diverse as multiple sclerosis, infections of the central nervous system, and Alzheimer's. They also suggest that SLYM function may have an impact on the brain's ability to receive medicines and gene therapies, which will need to be taken into account as new biologic therapy generations are created.

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Journal of Molecular Oncology Research