Everything in health is connected. That’s why we are such big fans of using lifestyle, diet and exercise to reach our goals. The body is made up of so many different systems working in concert to function. Often, research finds that two things are linked that you might not have suspected. That’s true for a new study published this week.
Scientists have found that signal patterns in the brain linked to the formation of memories also impact metabolism. Looking at the hippocampus, where memories are made, scans showed different patterns in the neurons firing. Whenever they saw “sharp wave ripples,” they would see decreases in blood sugar. The researchers believe that this shows that the ripples were telling the body to release hormones from the pancreas, liver and pituitary gland.
“Our study is the first to show how clusters of brain cell firing in the hippocampus may directly regulate metabolism,” said senior study author Dr. György Buzsáki of NYU Langone Health. “We are not saying that the hippocampus is the only player in this process, but that the brain may have a say in it through sharp wave ripples.”
Earlier research from his lab showed that these same ripples are involved in permanently storing memories during sleep. And, by prolonging these ripples, they also made rats learn to navigate mazes faster. So far, all of this research has been done in rats, so none of it is certain yet, but it holds exciting possibilities for humans.
“Animals could have first developed a system to control hormone release in rhythmic cycles, but then applied the same mechanism to memory when they later developed a more complex brain,” said another researcher Dr. David Tingley.
To be sure what they saw was connected, they forced the rats’ brains to have ripples in response to light, causing the reaction on demand. Every time they did, they saw the expected sugar drops. And, when they used a drug to turn off the nerve cells around the area and then caused the ripples, the sugar levels stayed steady, showing that the ripples are talking to the body. The fact that they could replicate it strengthens their find.
They would like to continue their research in both animals and humans. That could lead to new devices and therapy to add blood sugar control and improve memory. The hippocampus is buried too deeply in the human brain to be altered. But, its activity could be changed using magnetic or electrical forces on nearby areas. The scientists warn that medical treatments based on their research are quite a ways off. But it’s something to watch for, and it’s a good reminder of just how interconnected the body is.