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Brainwashed — For Your Own Good

An insidious kind of brainwashing goes on without your awareness. It continues surreptitiously every hour of the day and night. But not to worry; this brainwashing is intelligently designed, and it’s good for you. In fact, you couldn’t live without it!

Sleep on It

In November 2019, neuroscientists at Boston University observed a slow electrical wave pattern in healthy brains during sleep that coincided with ebbs and flows of blood and cerebrospinal fluid. They published their findings in Science, concluding that sleep cleanses the brain of toxic waste products of metabolism accumulated during the day. This helps answer the question of why sleep is necessary, and why sleep deprivation leads to so many known physical problems. Without this daily rinse cycle, waste products could build up, leading to neurodegenerative diseases and other health issues. New Scientist commented on the discovery:

They found that, during sleep, large waves of cerebrospinal fluid flow into and out of the brain every 20 seconds, a process thought to remove waste. The inward flow was preceded by patterns of slow waves of electrical activity, called delta waves.

These brainwaves are also known to play a role in consolidating memories while we sleep. The researchers found that the waves coincided with blood flowing out of the brain, which they say helps balance the total volume of fluid around the brain.

People with neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s have fewer and weaker slow brainwaves, says Lewis. “So we might expect that there are also fewer and smaller waves of cerebrospinal fluid in those disorders, and that might have an impact on how waste products are cleared.” [Emphasis added.]

Already one can detect interconnected complex mechanisms at work: the circadian clock, delta waves, homeostasis of fluid volume, identification and collection of metabolic waste products, and pathways for eliminating them safely. But there’s more. A new paper has possibly identified the actual “buckets” that haul the waste out of the brain, where they go, and what happens to the waste when it is dumped.

Bucket List for Toxic Waste Disposal

A fascinating paper was published December 3 in PNAS by ten scientists at the University of Barcelona. They identified the waste buckets as corpora amylacea (CA), or “starch bodies” that were first noticed in 1837 the anatomist and physiologist J. E. Purkinje. Here’s how the Barcelona team leads up to their breakthrough:

These bodies, named corpora amylacea (CA), were initially considered to have no pathological significance and for a long time were thought to be irrelevant. In recent decades, however, this perception has changed. With the advances in technology, CA have been studied from different perspectives and a large number of theories regarding their nature have been put forward. Unfortunately, none of these theories have been demonstrated conclusively and CA remain intriguing and mysterious bodies. In the present study, several features of CA are described and a vision of their function is proposed which may have implications for clinical practice.

This exciting Darwin-free paper introduces a wonder of design important to all of us, because it may lead to treatments to prevent dementia and other brain diseases. CAs form in astrocyte cells in the hippocampus and apparently engulf toxic metabolites from neurons, such as broken mitochondria and pieces of cell membranes. The team reviewed prior discoveries about CAs.

Taken together, this evidence indicates a relationship between CA and waste elements and reinforces the idea that CA are waste containers formed by a polyglucosan structure that amasses waste products.

But the CAs have a challenge: how do they get out of the hippocampus and into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)? And then, once they get out, how do they get transported outside the brain? Observations showed that “The CA is generated inside the astrocyte and, after the formation of a system of ramified scissurae around the CA, it is transferred to the pial connective tissue.” The scientists found CAs in the CSF, indicating that they do get extruded from the pial connective tissue. Perhaps the scissurae play a role in giving them an exit ticket.

Once the CAs reach the fluid, another system comes into play: the “recently rediscovered meningeal lymphatic system.” This particular lymphatic system crosses lymph nodes in the neck, where they filter the CA “buckets of waste” for delivery to trash compactors.

On this basis, it has been reported that meningeal lymphatic vessels allow the brain to eliminate macromolecules by collecting them from the CSF. Conceivably, in the same way as waste molecules generated in the brain, it is possible that CA released from the brain into the CSF escape from the CSF via the meningeal lymphatic system, reaching the deep cervical lymph nodes or beyond. The lymphatic capillaries are formed by overlapping cells that can act as valves leaving relatively large openings, allowing the passage of macromolecules and even cells, and thus also the passage of CA.

After the CA waste containers arrive at these special lymph nodes, another system comes into play: part of the immune system. Trash compactors called macrophages rip open the CAs and eat the trash!

Overall, this evidence suggests a mechanism for eliminating residual substances from the brain in which CA act as waste containers that are extruded from the brain to the CSF. Afterward, via the meningeal lymphatic system, CA can reach the cervical lymph nodes, and macrophages located there may play a significant role in their phagocytosis. We therefore studied the possible presence of CA in the CSF, their presence in the cervical lymph nodes, and their interactions with macrophages.

All the pieces of the puzzle appear to come together. Look at how many steps this involves. Astrocytes have to make CAs. The CAs have to identify and capture metabolic waste. Then, they need to be enveloped with structures that allow them to be extruded out of the hippocampus, and into the cerebrospinal fluid. The meningeal lymphatic system has to filter out the CAs into the lymph nodes. Finally, the macrophages have to be at the ready to phagocytose (“eat”) the waste by taking the junk apart so it cannot cause damage. Then, the detoxified substances are delivered to the excretory system for elimination.

Needed: Foresight

This is brainwashing we can be happy about! The first paper shows how sleep cleanses the brain with waves of electrical energy, keeping the fluid balance constant, while enabling the CAs to get to the trash depot. The second paper proposes a complete mechanism for getting waste to the disposal, involving many specialized cells and processes. These would have required Foresight to see a need and design all the parts for a complex task and make them work together. We don’t even have to think about any of this, because all the components operate day and night automatically, especially while we are sleep.

These are truly marvelous discoveries. It’s exciting to hear about scientists, equipped with advanced imaging techniques, able to watch what’s going on inside our brains. These systems were operating perfectly in the earliest humans, even though they were oblivious to it. None of us designed this elegant waste disposal system. These are gifts that bear the hallmarks of intelligent design. The best we can do is recognize them, learn more about them, and be grateful that a wise designer figured out all the systems needed to give us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let us use our “brainwashed” brains for good.

Photo credit: David Matos via Unsplash.