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Water is not quite the first thing that comes to mind when considering substances dangerous to the brain.
Nonetheless, an imbalance of water in the brain can be lethal. For example, a hard blow to the head can cause dangerous swelling in the brain. Fluid accumulating in the brain cells expands the tissue and because the skull will not give way, blood vessels will come under pressure. At worst, swelling will prevent oxygen from reaching the brain.
Epilepsy is also associated with disturbances in the regulation of water in the brain.
The transport of water in the brain is one of the main problems addressed in the research of the Water Imbalance Related Disorders (WIRED) centre of excellence in molecular medicine.
- In recent years we have learned a great deal about the transport of water in cells. We know that water passes from one cell to another via proteins called aquaporins, explains Professor Kai Kaila of WIRED in explaining the research problem.
- We do not know. however, if we should attempt to restrain the accumulation of water in the brain by preventing the function of aquaporins, Kaila continues.
Kaila's research group in neurobiology is participating in the work of the centre of excellence by investigating the movement of ions, such as chloride, potassium and sodium in the brain.
- Cells do not transport water actively. Instead it always passes on along with other substances. By investigating the movement of ions we can also establish the mechanisms of water transport.
Combining Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish research teams, WIRED does not concentrate only on brain research. The transport of water is also investigated in molecules and in the kidney.
Kaila maintains that the project will benefit from several approaches.
- It is far too often that brain researchers discuss matters only with other brain researchers. At the cellular level, however, the building blocks of organisms are highly similar in different parts of the body, which means that observations of one part of the body will aid in understanding its other parts.
Water Imbalance Related Disorders (WIRED)
Professor Kai Kaila of the Laboratory of Neurobiology at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences of the University of Helsinki is a participant in the Water Imbalance Related Disorders (WIRED) Nordic centre of excellence in molecular medicine .
Text: Juha Merimaa
Photo: Liisa Huima
Translation: Valtasana Oy