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Bottleneck in blood supply makes brain vulnerable to strokes

A team of University of California, San Diego physicists and neuroscientists has discovered a bottleneck in the network of blood vessels in the brain that makes it vulnerable to strokes. The finding may explain the origin of the puzzling damage to the brain's gray matter often detected in brain scans, especially among the elderly.

In the study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers used a laser technique they developed to precisely monitor changes in blood flow resulting from an induced blockage in a tiny artery, or arteriole, in the brains of anesthetized rats. They found that the penetrating arterioles, which connect the blood vessels on the brain's surface with deeper blood vessels, are a vulnerable link in the network.

"The blood vessels on the surface of the brain are like a collection of city streets that provide multiple paths to get somewhere," explained David Kleinfeld, a professor of physics at UCSD, who led the team. "If one of the vessels is blocked, blood flow quickly rearranges itself. On the other hand, the penetrating arterioles are more like freeways. When blocked, the blood flow is stopped or slowed significantly in a large region round the clot."

The obstruction of blood flow resulted in damage to the surrounding brain area, which the researchers report resembled damage seen in the brains of humans and thought to be the result of "silent strokes." Silent strokes have attracted attention recently because magnetic resonance imaging has made it possible to follow changes in the brains of individuals as they age. MRI scans have revealed that, over time, small holes accumulate in the gray matter of many patients, including those who have no obvious behavioral signs of a stroke.

The researchers say their results support the hypothesis, made by clinicians, that the penetrating arterioles may be the location of small strokes that cause the
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Contact: Sherry Seethaler
sseethaler@ucsd.edu
858-534-4656
University of California - San Diego
3-Jan-2007


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