Mapping glymphatic pathway function in the human brain: Detecting glio-vascular changes that slow amyloid β clearance from the aging brain

Aging is the strongest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, yet the age-related changes that render the brain vulnerable to the development of Alzheimer’s disease remain unclear. The members of this research team are the pioneers who recently described the “glymphatic system” in animals, which helps to clear plaques and other substances from the brain and is also impaired in the aging brain. This team will use novel methods combined with an established imaging approach to measure the activity of the glymphatic system for the first time in human patients. If successful, this method may be able to provide insight into which patients are vulnerable to the build-up of plaques long before clinical symptoms arise. This could provide a window of treatment opportunities when lifestyle interventions and drug treatments have the greatest opportunity of preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease.

Affiliated Investigators

Jeffrey Iliff, Ph.D.

Oregon Health & Science University

Dr. Jeff Iliff is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine and the Knight Cardiovascular Institute at Oregon Health & Science University. While training at the University of Rochester, he was part of the research team that identified a brain cleaning system, termed the ‘glymphatic system’ that clears away wastes such as amyloid beta from the brain during sleep. Iliff’s recent studies have shown that the glymphatic system may fail in the aging brain and in the young brain after traumatic brain injury. Research in his lab now focuses on identifying the molecular changes that underlie glymphatic system failure with aging and after trauma, extending these studies into human subjects and clinical populations, and discovering ways to co-opt the glymphatic system to improve drug delivery throughout the brain and spinal cord. 

William Rooney, Ph.D.

Oregon Health & Science University

Dr. William Rooney is Senior Scientist and Director of the Advanced Imaging Research Center, and Associate Professor in Behavioral Neuroscience, Biomedical Engineering, and Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University. Dr. Rooney is an imaging scientist and his research focus is on the development of non-invasive biomarkers of normal physiology and pathophysiology with a strong emphasis on vascular and metabolic phenotyping. A primary interest of this work is to understand the fundamental physiology of the glymphatic system in the human brain and generate maps of its function.