WEDNESDAY, May 26, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that they've discovered how tiny blood vessels remove blood clots from the brain in mice -- a finding that could help scientists gain a better understanding of how to treat people who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and stroke.
Removing clots and other blockages in the brain is crucial to allow blood to flow unimpeded, since blockages can lead to a shortage of oxygen, damaged communication between nerve cells and eventual cell death.
In the new study, researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine used scanning technology to examine tiny blood vessels -- known as microvessels-- in the brains of mice. They discovered that cells in the walls of the vessels restore blocked blood flow by sealing off the blockages and removing them.
The blood vessels of older mice weren't as easily able to remove the blockages in the brain.
"The reduced efficiency of this protective mechanism in the older brain and its effect on the function of nerve cells in the brain may significantly contribute to age-related cognitive decline," researcher Suzana Petanceska, of the National Institute on Aging's Division of Neuroscience, which paid for the research, said in a news release.
"This may also be part of the mechanism by which vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease with age," she added.
The findings appear online May 26 in the journal Nature.
For more on Alzheimer's disease, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.