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.
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.