A first-of-its-kind study headed by Georgia State University researchers uncovers shocking new information regarding the link between neuron activity and blood flow deep in the brain. The study also showed how salt consumption affects the brain, as per media agency ANI.

The study has further explained neurovascular coupling or functional hyperaemia – when neurons are activated, it typically produces a rapid increase of blood flow to the area. This occurs via the dilation of blood vessels in the brain called arterioles. 

Previous researches on neurovascular coupling, however, have been restricted to superficial parts of the brain (such as the cerebral cortex), and scientists have largely focused on how blood flow varies in response to sensory stimuli from the environment (such as visual or auditory stimuli). 

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The new study was conducted by Dr Javier Stern, professor of neuroscience at Georgia State and director of the university’s Centre for Neuroinflammation and Cardiometabolic Diseases. Through this study, Dr Stern has tried to combine surgical techniques and state-of-the-art neuroimaging. The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, examined how blood flow to the hypothalamus changed in response to salt intake. 

Dr Stern said, “We chose salt because the body needs to control sodium levels very precisely. We even have specific cells that detect how much salt is in your blood. When you ingest salty food, the brain senses it and activates a series of compensatory mechanisms to bring sodium levels back down.”

He further added, “The findings took us by surprise because we saw vasoconstriction, which is the opposite of what most people described in the cortex in response to a sensory stimulus. Reduced blood flow is normally observed in the cortex in the case of diseases like Alzheimer’s or after a stroke or ischemia.”

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The team dubbed the phenomenon “inverse neurovascular coupling,” or a decrease in blood flow that produces hypoxia. They also observed other differences: In the cortex, vascular responses to stimuli are very localized and the dilation occurs rapidly. 

“When we eat a lot of salt, our sodium levels stay elevated for a long time,” said Stern adding, “We believe the hypoxia is a mechanism that strengthens the neurons’ ability to respond to the sustained salt stimulation, allowing them to remain active for a prolonged period”.

The findings have raised interesting questions about how hypertension may affect the brain. And the study revealed that between 50 and 60 percent of hypertension is believed to be salt-dependent, i.e. triggered by excess salt consumption.

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