Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation

Cerebral Oedema

Investigation Into Brain Oedema
First Published: Investigator - July 2005

Flinders investigators have discovered a new pathway that may help treat cerebral oedema, or swelling of the brain – a common symptom of many severe brain diseases and head trauma.

Dr Alan Wilson, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Medical Imaging, and his team are researching what role a specific aquaporin plays in this condition.

Cerebral oedema is caused by an abnormal flow of water into the brain, leading to brain swelling. As the swelling is constrained within the bony skull, the pressure within the brain may increase to dangerous levels. Once this happens, blood vessels within the brain may be compressed, leading to reduced blood flow to the brain which in turn may lead to brain death and eventually death of the patient.

Until recently, the medical field did not understand the basic mechanisms behind this swelling and often extreme emergency measures needed to be taken to relieve the pressure, such as drilling drainage holes in the skull. These treatments however were used to relieve the symptoms, not to control the condition itself.

Over the last decade, a family of proteins called aquaporins has been identified that act as water channels within cell membranes. Aquaporins have been shown to play a major role in movement of water throughout cells within the body, both in health and disease.

During the last few years the significance of these proteins has begun to be more appreciated and much research undertaken. So far, eleven types of aquaporin have been found, two of which – AQP1 and AQP4 - are now known to reside in the brain. It was believed that these two aquaporins were restricted to certain brain areas, however, due to a recent discovery here at the Flinders Medical Centre by Dr Wilson, AQP1 has now been demonstrated in some additional, previously unrecognised, areas.

It is still unknown exactly what role aquaporins play in cerebral oedema, whether a positive defensive or negative role that allows the abnormal water flow.

With the help of the Flinders Medical Centre Foundation’s funding, the research team have been able to continue vital research into the role that the AQP1 plays in cerebral oedema in the hopes of someday controlling this dangerous condition.

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