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February 17, 2015

Medical Center study honored by AAAS

Research that has transformed scientists’ understanding of the brain and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s has been awarded the 2014 Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The association’s oldest honor, the prize annually recognizes the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in the journal Science, and will be awarded this year for a study that appeared in the October 2013 edition of journal, titled “Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain.”

The study being honored builds on the earlier discovery by a team of researchers at the Medical Center that the brain possesses its own unique waste removal system, dubbed the glymphatic system. The 2013 study revealed that the glymphatic system is highly active during sleep, clearing away toxins responsible for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders. Furthermore, the researchers found that during sleep the brain’s cells reduce in size, allowing waste to be removed more effectively.

The discovery may serve to explain the biological purpose of sleep by showing that the brain must devote its finite energy to either a state of wakefulness, during which time it is alert and processing information, or asleep and actively clearing waste.  The Medical Center team has since gone on to show that the glymphatic system slows in function while we age and can become impaired after a traumatic brain injury. 

“Prior to the discovery of the glymphatic system, no one really understood how the brain dealt with waste,” says Maiken Nedergaard, codirector of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine and lead author of the article. “This research not only solves this mystery, but it provides us a new opportunity to re-examine and potentially treat neurodegenerative diseases, almost all of which are associated with the accumulation of cellular waste products.”

Additional authors of the study include Lulu Xie, Hongyi Kang, Qiwu Xu, Michael Chen, Yonghong Liao, Thiyagarajan Meenakshisundaram, John O’Donnell, Daniel Christensen, Takahiro Takano, and Rashid Deane with the Medical Center; Jeffrey Iliff with Oregon Health and Science University; and Charles Nicholson with New York University.

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