Researchers at the University of Victoria have uncovered reasons for why we lose blood vessels in the brain, which can help prevent and protect cognitive decline as people age.
UVic neuroscientist Craig Brown and PhD student Patrick Reeson have been studying what happens to clogged capillaries, the smallest blood vessels in the brain, which routinely get stuck with cells and debris in the blood.
While most clear in short time, some remain stuck for much longer.
Brown and Reeson found 30 per cent of those clogged capillaries were pruned from the blood vessel network and never replaced.
Brown says there are millions of capillaries in the brain and losing them is a concern for brain health.
He says it is essential to identify measures to hold onto the ones we have.
“It will be important to identify new strategies to treat this problem, especially in certain conditions or situations where there is a higher risk of clogged blood vessels in the brain,” Brown said.
Those conditions include stroke, heart attacks and long periods under anesthesia during surgery.
The pair found a vascular growth factor receptor, VEGF-R2, was key to whether a clogged capillary regained blood flow or remained stuck and cut away.
VEGF-R2 is a protein that regulates the function of blood vessels.
“Understanding how and why you lose these capillaries is the first step. This is the first time that we’ve been able to explain why this loss of blood vessels occurs,” Reeson said.
The study was recently published in the scientist-led research journal eLIFE in Cambridge, UK.