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.

University of Washington School of Medicine & VA Puget Sound

Jeff is the Associate Director for Research at the VISN 20 NW Mental Illness, Research, Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC) at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. He is a Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and in Neurology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, where he is the Arthur J. and Marcella McCaffray Professor in Alzheimer’s Disease.

Starting as an undergraduate researcher at the University of Washington studying cerebral blood flow regulation, Jeff’s research has always focused on the brain vasculature as the crossroads of the CNS. He completed his PhD in Physiology and Pharmacology at Oregon Health & Science University focusing on mechanisms governing the release of neuropeptides from perivascular trigeminal afferents at the brain surface. As a postdoc in the lab of Maiken Nedergaard at the University of Rochester Medical Center, he led the team that initially characterized the glymphatic system, the network of perivascular pathways the supports the clearance of wastes from brain tissue during sleep. Since starting up his own lab in 2013, Jeff’s work has focused on defining the glial and vascular changes in the aging and post-traumatic brain that underlie impairment of glymphatic function and the vulnerability to the development of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

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.