They have shown that myelin can function as an energy reservoir of the brain.

2024/01/26 Galarraga Aiestaran, Ana - Elhuyar Zientzia Iturria: Elhuyar aldizkaria

MRI images of a corridor. The loss of myelin due to exertion was observed in the plant. Ed. Pedro Ramos Cabrer/CICbiomaGUNE

For example, when physical exercise is performed for a long time during a marathon, research says that nerve cells resort to alternative energy sources, such as myelin, the structure surrounding nerve fibers. The research has been supported by researchers from different centers (UPV/EHU, CIC biomaGUNE, CIBERNED, Biobizkaia, Achucarro…) who have pointed out this metabolic plasticity through the hitherto unknown myelin.

Researchers remember that the brain, despite representing only 2% of body weight, consumes 20% of the energy spent by the body and its main source of energy is glucose. In this research, they wanted to know what happens to the brain when glucose is below the minimum needs, like a marathon or an ultramarathon.

The research involved scanning the brains of several marathon runners using MRI during the days before and after the race and two weeks later. So they find that performing a marathon reduces the myelin content in much of the gray and white matter of the brain. The effect is similar in both hemispheres and is reversible. That is, two weeks after the end of the effort, myelin levels were almost the same. However, researchers warn that if the effort is prolonged too long, it can have functional consequences in the brain.

However, they have concluded that myelin can be an alternative energy reservoir that can be used when the nutrients used by the brain are reduced. Moreover, they point out that this use has opened up a new vision of the energy requirements of the brain, which affects both the performance of athletes and the nutrition of the general population. They have also advanced that it can open new lines of study and treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and other demyelinating diseases.


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