Scientists Still Don't Know How the Brain Works, but They Are Getting Closer

A new study has brought researchers one step closer to better understanding the brain by revealing one of the simplest yet most puzzling dilemmas, how water in our blood gets to the brain. Understanding this could help scientists also figure out how to get water out of the brain in cases where excess water on the brain causes too much pressure.

The study, published online in Nature Communications this month, used mice models to finally figure out how water is transported to the brain. For their research, the team inhibited the water transporters in the brains of live mice by breeding mice that did not have the conditions required for water transportation in the brain, Science Alert reported. This revealed that a previously unknown ion transporter named the NKCC1 co-transporter was responsible for most of the water transportation into the brain.

The researchers hope that understanding how water gets into the brain could help them figure out an easier way to get water out of the brain in humans. Currently, the most utilized methods to reduce water levels in the brain involve operations that require drilling holes in the skull to manually drain the brain, The National Institute of Health reported.

Indian doctors prepare Roona Begum, a 15-month old girl suffering from hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid inside the skull that leads to swelling, for surgery at a hospital in Gurgaon on the outskirts of New Delhi on May 15, 2013. Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

"If we are able to target this ion and water transporter with medicine, it would affect a number of disorders involving increased intracranial pressure, including brain hemorrhage, blood clots in the brain, and hydrocephalus," said study author Nanna MacAulay from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, Science Alert reported.

Hydrocephalus is the official name for water on the brain. While water on the brain usually helps to cushion the organ and keep it safe, too much water can put pressure on this vital organ. Excess water buildup can be caused by a number of injuries and conditions. These include a stroke, infection, a tumor or a head injury, MedlinePlus reported. Babies can also be born with hydrocephalus.

This buildup of water can cause permanent brain damage and impair physical and mental development. In some cases, it can even kill the patient. Some people may have water continuously buildup in their brains because of a certain health condition.

More research will be needed to ensure that the same ion transmitter also controls water in the brain in humans, and if so, how to translate this finding into an effective treatment.