Further understanding of the role of the immune system in blood flow to the brain

Read about a research project we funded into microglial proliferation and neuroinflammation: contribution to degenerative processes and vascular cognitive impairment

Lead Investigator: Professor Karen Horsburgh
Institution: University of Edinburgh
Grant type: PhD studentship
Duration: 36 months
Amount: £85,000

Why did we fund this project?

Comments from members of our Research Network:

'A good opportunity to use valuable and scarce facilities to study an important topic'

'The role of microglia in the brain and neuroinflammation are both possible key factors in the development of dementia and are worthy of much further investigation'

What do we already know?

The brain is dependent on a good blood supply to carry essential things like oxygen and nutrients and it also to remove waste. These things are essential for the brain to function properly and to maintain good memory.
  In a previous work, the researchers showed that a reduction in blood flow, known as hypoperfusion, may affect the way the cells in the brain communicate. This reduction in blood flow can be detected before symptoms of memory loss start to show. 

 The blood vessels and surrounding cells in the brain make up a structure called the 'neurovascular unit'.  Some of these cells are important for controlling the environment in the brain, ensuring that there is sufficient blood flow, oxygen and nutrients. Damage to the neurovascular unit has been shown to increase the number of the immune cells of the brain, known as microglia. However the exact role of the microglia in the damaged neurovascular unit is unclear.

What does this project involve?

The project will use mice with the symptoms to vascular dementia, to find out how the cells in the neurovascular unit interact with each other and change over time. The PhD student on this project will use new imaging techniques to look at the neurovascular unit in the brains of mice over a 12 week period. They will monitor microglia and other cells when blood flow is reduced. The student will also monitor the symptoms shown by the mice to see if these change.

The student will also use a drug-like chemical to block the production of microglia during reduced blood flow. This will help to show if microglial cells are causing damage to the neurovascular unit and if blocking their production protects the brain from damage.

This student will join other students based at the Scotland Doctoral Training Centre.

How will this benefit people with dementia?

Vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease are the most common forms of dementia. So far there are no treatments that can modify the underlying causes of either condition. Understanding the factors that lead to one or both of the conditions gives us a clearer idea of the causes and will allow researchers to find potential targets for future treatments.