The way the brain and its blood vessels interact with the blood-brain barrier has remained a puzzle for decades until recently. Researchers referred to this as a complex collaboration that is not clear which between these two dictates what the other does.
To investigate that scientists have created a special Organ Chip System and linked it to the a Brain Chip that has two blood-brain barrier Chips to recapitulate the way the brain interacts with its blood vessels.
Just like the natural brain, the new system reacts or responds to methamphetamine exposure, something that has opened a new window where researchers can observes to understand processes that previously remained obscure and complex to comprehend.
Through this study, the researchers have come to know the hidden interaction between the blood vessels in the brain and our mental function.
A Glimpse into the Natural Brain
Talking of networks, the human brain has over 100 billion neurons, which link to each other but each network of neurons is tasked with independent functions. Some are dedicated to the formation of thought, memory, storage, word usage and language, mobility and action and so on…
Now contrary to how it was previously perceived; the brain is the busiest, most delicate and most complex organ in the body. That’s the reason why besides having the skull around it, there are also blood-brain barriers that purposely offer protection against potentially toxic and harmful substances.
The blood vessels tasked with supplying nutrients and oxygen to the brain are super selective on what molecules are allowed to cross to and from the other side of the brain and vice versa. That is, the blood vessels and their highly protective network comprise the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and other supporting cells namely pericytes and astrocytes.
But even with all the protection still, the BBB can be disrupted when exposed to drugs such as “meth” (methamphetamine) making the internals of the brain susceptible to damage by particles which end up making through the filters.
The Blood-Brain Barrier
The way the physical barrier in the brain regulates what goes in and what goes out is a super complex topic. However, to the amusement of experts, it was discovered that the BBB has a way it interacts with the brain to regulate its functions –but how exactly the two systems influence each other remained a hidden equation.
Now, a team of experts at Wyss Institute for Biological Inspired Engineering decided to build what they call a “just right” model similar to the BBB brain interface. They then linked it microfluidically to Organ Chips that happen to react to meth.
This figuratively explains how the natural brain behalves: it’s like taking the brain apart then putting it together after you are done analyzing it. In theory, this gave the researchers a clear clue, to observe how the brain’s vasculature impacts or dictates the metabolic functions in the brain.
How this Changes Brain Research
“Most studies on Organ Chips are focused on increasing the complexity of cell types on a chip model. However, our research is different, the brain is too complex already, to explore on a single chip, so we divided one organ into various chips,” explained Ben Maoz Ph.D. a former fellow at Wyss who currently holds the post of Asst. Professor at Tel Aviv University.
The work, which also appears in Nature Biotechnology, points out that through organ chips, this technology comes in to usher a new level, in the field of neurological research that might have never been reached.
With it, it’s now possible to watch interactions in dense organs, how structural interactions take place within the brain and important of all how drugs can disrupt the blood-brain barrier.