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Skull marrow might hint at, interact with brain injuries

We tend to think of the skull as merely a “bone helmet” for the brain.

But emerging research suggests the cranium and its marrow actually interact with our gray matter in ways that could aid the diagnosis and treatment of some neurological diseases.

Brain research has underlined the vital and variable role immune responses and inflammation play in injuries and diseases like MS, Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.

Now, a paper in the journal Cell finds that marrow cells in the skull likely change in response to brain injuries and then travel to the brain through tiny channels — which were themselves only recently discovered.

The study compared observations in mice with specific brain injuries to post-mortem samples from the skulls, backbones and pelvises of 20 deceased humans.

When researchers examined the differences between the body’s various bone marrows, they found cells in the skull, especially the white blood cells called neutrophils, differed from those in other bones but closely resembled those in the brain’s protective outer layers, called the meninges.

Skull marrow cells also contained brain proteins, suggesting the interactions goes both ways.

Intriguingly, PET imaging revealed that skull inflammation patterns differed between the three diseases studied.

For example, scientists detected a large inflammation signal at the base of the skulls of people with multiple sclerosis, but not in people with stroke or Alzheimer’s.

Proving such skull-brain interactions and their diagnostic value will require much more research, however.

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.