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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 02/19/99
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Study Expands Understanding of Cerebrospinal Fluid

Cincinnati—Michael N. Lehman, PhD, professor of cell biology and director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine says all the roles of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) may not be fully understood. Described in the January 23, 1999 issue of Science News as "a vital river running through your head," the neurological stream of CSF is defined as a "clear, colorless liquid that constantly bathes the brain and spinal cord."

For years, scientists have known that CSF helps provide the nervous system with nutrients and that the brain literally floats in CSF, reducing pressure on the spine. The watery fluid provides a cushion to protect the brain's fragile cellular network, much like styrofoam and bubble packing protects computers in transit. The fluid is replaced several times a day and removes harmful substances. "CSF has been thought of as the drainage system of the brain," says Lehman. Now, Lehman and a small group of his colleagues think that CSF may in fact be a river of information carrying important biochemical messages within the brain.

Lehman and Rae Silver, PhD, a professor of psychology at Columbia University, organized a recent symposium at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Los Angeles to offer provocative evidence that may strengthen their theory. Lehman and Silver studied the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), a small region of the mammalian brain that controls the daily or circadian rhythms of animals and people. It is thought that the SCN exerts influence by sending electrical signals to other areas of the brain via nerve cell connections. Yet, Lehman, Silver, and their colleagues found evidence that a soluble chemical released by the SCN into CSF acts as a circadian signal that sets the rhythms of life, regulating periods of alertness or sleepiness.

Other researchers have found that biochemical messages that regulate basic functions such as sleep, food intake, and reproduction may also be carried in the CSF. In June 1998, a Stanford researcher noted that CSF production declines dramatically with age and may contribute to dementia. His findings were published in Lancet, a prestigious medical journal.

"More research is needed for scientists to better understand all of the roles played by CSF," says Lehman. Lehman's research is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

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