You are now among the first people to see the brain’s lymphatic system. The vessels in the photo above transport fluid that is likely crucial to metabolic and inflammatory processes. Until now, no one knew for sure that they existed.
Doctors practicing today have been taught that there are no lymphatic vessels inside the skull. Those deep-purple vessels were seen for the first time in images published this week by researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
In the rest of the body, the lymphatic system collects and drains the fluid that bathes our cells, in the process exporting their waste. It also serves as a conduit for immune cells, which go out into the body looking for adversaries and learning how to distinguish self from other, and then travel back to lymph nodes and organs through lymphatic vessels.
So how was it even conceivable that this process wasn’t happening in our brains?
Senior investigator Daniel Reich trained as both a neurologist and radiologist, and his expertise is in inflammatory brain disease. The connection between the immune system and the brain is at the core of what he says he spends most of his time thinking about: multiple sclerosis. The immune system appears to modulate or even underlie many neurologic diseases, and the cells of the central nervous system produce waste that needs to be washed away just like other metabolically active cells. This discovery should make it possible to study how the brain does that, how it circulates white blood cells, and how these processes may go awry in diseases or play a role in aging.