Stony Brook, NY; Stony Brook University Medical Center: Department of Anesthesiology's Helene D. Benveniste, MD, PhD, Professor, Vice Chair for Research and Clinical Assistant Professor Hedok Lee, PhD look over data. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University
The Department of Anesthesiology’s Helene D. Benveniste (right) and Hedok Lee (center), look over data. The research team used an imaging technique called dynamic contrast MRI, along with kinetic modeling, to visualize and quantify waste removal in the brain. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University

Every few weeks, Ruchi Shah, a senior biology major, will take a look at Stony Brook-related science and research news.

Like a garbage truck removing waste, the brain’s glymphatic pathway works to remove harmful molecules like amyloid β and tau proteins, the buildup of which could lead to neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

A recent study led by Dr. Helene Benveniste, a professor in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Radiology at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, found that sleeping in the lateral (side) position could more effectively clear the brain of these harmful wastes.

The brain’s glymphatic pathway is thought to work best at night because that is when the space between the cells expands and the pressure drops, allowing for more effective exchange.

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Benveniste wondered if sleeping position plays in role in the effectiveness of the brain-waste clearance process of the glymphatic pathway. To find out, she and a team of researchers from several universities designed a study comparing waste clearance in mice sleeping in the lateral, prone (down-facing) and supine (upward-facing) positions.

The research team used an imaging technique called dynamic contrast MRI along with kinetic modeling to visualize and quantify waste removal in the brain.

“The analysis showed us consistently that glymphatic transport was most efficient in the lateral position when compared to the supine or prone positions,” Benveniste said in a news release.

Interestingly, the lateral sleep position is the most common in humans and animals, suggesting that organisms have evolved over time to prefer the sleeping position that clears brain waste the best.

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This idea is corroborated by the correlation between the prone sleeping position and sudden infant death and sleep apnea. Furthermore, poor sleep has also been suggested to play a role in dementia and memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients, furthering the idea that proper sleep is needed to rid the brain of harmful wastes.

These findings could improve future diagnostic imaging procedures, as doctors can use the information to position patients to best view the function of their brain’s glymphatic pathway.

It is important to note that these experiments were conducted in mice and further studies are needed before the results can be translated to humans.

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