Release: Neurons absorb and release water when firing, NIH study suggests

Findings in rat cell cultures could lead to new method for tracking communications throughout the brain

Thursday, September 13, 2018
Stock image of a neuron
-stock photo of a neuron

WHAT:

Neurons absorb and release water when they relay messages throughout the brain, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and other institutions. Tracking this water movement with imaging technology may one day provide valuable information on normal brain activity, as well as how injury or disease affect brain function. The study appears in Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

Current functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technologies measure neuronal activity indirectly by tracking changes in blood flow and blood oxygen levels. Neurons communicate with each other by a process known as firing. In this process, they emit a slight electrical charge as an enzyme moves positively charged molecules—potassium and sodium ions—through the cell membrane. In the current study, when researchers stimulated cell cultures of rat neurons to fire, they found that the exchanges of potassium and sodium ions was accompanied by an increase in the number of water molecules moving into and out of the cell.

The researchers noted that their method works only in cultures of neurons and additional studies are necessary to advance the technology so that it can be used to monitor neuronal firing in living organisms.

WHO:

Peter Basser, Ph.D., Senior Investigator, Section on Quantitative Imaging and Tissue Science, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

ARTICLE:

Bai, Ruiliang. Brain active transmembrane water cycling measured by MR is associated with neuronal activity. Magnetic Resonance in Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1002/mrm.27473 

This press release describes a basic research finding. Basic research increases our understanding of human behavior and biology, which is foundational to advancing new and better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. Science is an unpredictable and incremental process—each research advance builds on past discoveries, often in unexpected ways. Most clinical advances would not be possible without the knowledge of fundamental basic research.

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About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): NICHD conducts and supports research in the United States and throughout the world on fetal, infant and child development; maternal, child and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit NICHD’s website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

 

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