Brain lesions leads to cognitive decline, especially in ageing brain

New Jersey:

A recent research explained the reason how lesions develop in brain and their placement in the brain.

The research highlighted the importance of viewing the brain as more than neural circuitry that underpinned how thoughts are formed, and memories created. It’s also a physical object that’s prone to glitches and mechanical failures.

“The brain is susceptible to wear and tear in vulnerable areas. Especially in an ageing brain, we need to look at its biomechanical properties to better understand how things can start to go wrong,” said Johannes Weickenmeier, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology.

These lesions — known as deep and periventricular white matter hyperintensities because they show up as bright white patches on MRI scans — are poorly understood. But they are not uncommon: most people have some by the time they reach their 60s, and changes only increase with age. The more lesions that accumulate and the faster they grow, the more prone we become to cognitive impairments ranging from memory problems to motor disorders.

“The cell wall that lines the ventricles wears out over time, like a balloon that’s repeatedly blown up and deflated. And the stresses aren’t uniform — they’re defined by the geometry of the ventricle, so we can predict where these failures will occur,” Weickenmeier said.

“The model provides a simple, physics-based explanation for the locations of these lesions, revealing that mechanical loads must be a major contributor to the onset of disease,” added Weickenmeier.

The team’s research used 2D imaging showing a cross-section of the brain, but Weickenmeier’s team has since expanded its research to a full 3D model of the brain. Next, Weickenmeier hopes to use advanced MRI technologies developed at Stevens to study the movement of the ventricle wall directly.

In the long term, the team’s findings might enable the development of new treatments for lesions. Ordinarily, pharmaceutical treatments struggle to cross the blood-brain barrier and reach affected areas, but the new research suggested that it might be possible to channel drugs to lesions directly through leaks in the ventricular wall.

“That’s still a long way off, and we didn’t study it directly. But it’s an intriguing possibility,” Weickenmeier cautioned.

The broader takeaway from the team’s research, explained by Weickenmeier, is that the brain’s ageing process is mediated by physical processes, including the pressure of circulating blood and CSF. That underscores the need for healthy behaviours — such as getting enough exercise and avoiding harmful substances — that can reduce those strains on the brain. 

The study has been published in the ‘Scientific Reports Journal’. 


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