We republish this article from Jose Angel Moralesprofessor and scientific researcher in Neuroscience at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), published in the Research Results Transfer Office (OTRI) from UCM.

It is estimated that a person generates a kilo of waste per day. Imagine for a moment that we could not eliminate these residues. Garbage would accumulate in our homes. Living surrounded by garbage, in addition to being very uncomfortable, would cause serious health problems.

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That the nervous system is an extraordinary organ is nothing new. But with great power comes great responsibility. And it is that the nervous tissue, apart from being extraordinary, is extremely delicate. But do not panic, evolution has thought about this before anyone else and that is why it has provided us with a protective barrier that completely surrounds the nervous system: the blood brain barrier. It is an almost impregnable wall that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, preventing anything harmful from penetrating inside. But that can have a drawback. Nothing goes in, but nothing comes out either. And in the end, the “brain garbage” accumulates inside causing serious damage.

The glymphatic system, the brain’s garbage collector

The rest of the organs and tissues of our body have it easy. They have a waste management and disposal system that many cities would like. is the call lymphatic systema network of vessels (such as blood vessels) that they eliminate everything that the cells do not need.

But who takes out the garbage in the brain? We repeat, don’t panic! Evolution had it planned too, and although the central nervous system does not have a lymphatic system as such, it does have an alternative garbage collection system: the glymphatic system.

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It is a waste disposal system that uses a unique network of channels that run through nerve tissue. This is good news because in addition to waste removal, the glymphatic system facilitates the distribution throughout the brain and spinal cord of substances necessary for proper function, such as glucose, lipids, amino acids, growth factors, and neuromodulators – substances that control neuronal communication.

This tunnel system is formed by some old acquaintances of the nervous system: astroglial cells or astrocytes. The name says it all: star-shaped cells. These small but valuable cells are distributed throughout the central nervous system, making sure everything works properly. With its multiple extensions, which give it its characteristic star-shaped appearance, they form “terminal feet” or enlargements that form the tunnels of the glymphatic system.

Sleep, restful in garbage collection

There are many factors that determine whether the glymphatic system functions properly, such as the circulatory system or the immune system. Therefore, our lifestyle, diseases and everything that affects astrocytes, such as inflammation, will have negative effects on the glymphatic system. One of the most important is the sleep. Interestingly, the glymphatic system works mainly when we sleep and stops working, to a large extent, when we are awake.

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In addition, the glymphatic system is more efficient and productive when the heart is pounding, because then the blood flows, the body relaxes and the brain enjoys restful sleep. It’s logical take advantage of the hours of sleep to “take out the brain garbage”. Furthermore, some scientific studies claim that the restorative nature of sleep is largely due to the activity of the glymphatic system.

But not everything is good news, because the glymphatic system, like so many other structures, also deteriorates as a result of aging. Or, to put it another way, as we get older our nervous system loses its ability to “take out the garbage”.

Accumulated protein debris in Alzheimer’s and other diseases

One of the greatest risk factors for suffering a neurodegenerative disease is aging. Therefore, the failure of the glymphatic system as we age could contribute to the accumulation of “debris” in the brain with age.

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It’s what happens in the Alzheimer’s. This disease is characterized by the progressive deterioration of cognitive capacity – information processing capacity – and functional along with behavioral changes, which usually appears around the age of 65. In the brain of patients appear protein deposits (beta amyloid and tau) poorly folded that since they cannot be eliminated correctly, they accumulate, affecting the correct functioning of the nervous system.

In this sense, a study A recent study carried out in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease indicates that improving the functioning of the glymphatic system could achieve most efficient drugs for your treatment. It is of little use to clean the house every day, if we do not take out the garbage afterwards. In other words, no matter how effective therapies aimed at eliminating protein plaques accumulated in the brain are, if the pipes are clogged, the treatment will be of little use.

But not just Alzheimer’s. The scientists who discovered the glymphatic system a few years ago, Nedergaard and Goldmanhypothesized that glymphatic insufficiency is common in the development of other diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, multiple system atrophies, and frontotemporal dementia.

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Given that the optimal functionality of the glymphatic system occurs when we sleep and that these diseases are strongly correlated with significant sleep disturbances, it is believed that poor sleep can contribute to the glymphatic system not working properlycontributing to the appearance of these diseases.

Thomas Dekker said that “sleep is the golden chain that unites health and our bodies”. After reading this article, you have enough information to answer those who say that “sleeping makes us lose time in life”. Of course, everything in its proper measure.

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