The brain is arguably the most mysterious entity in the universe. It surprises us every time we believe we have got a handle on how it does whatever it is that it does. But the determination of the brain to remain an enigma is matched by the zeal of neuroscientists to decode its riddles. And what better way to announce the unravelling of a brain puzzle than by a catchy title that epitomises the discovery. Let us therefore celebrate 10 landmark neuroscience breakthroughs with 10 perceptively catchy neuroscience titles from the literature – both vintage and fresh.
This headline, whilst alluding to a fairy tale, highlights a real neuroscience breakthrough. The headline comes from a paper published in 2015 in the journal Current Opinions in Genetics and Development, and it has the full title “Reawakening the sleeping beauty in the adult brain: neurogenesis from parenchymal glia“. And at the centre of the paper is the concept of converting primary glial or supporting cells into ‘proper’ nerve cells. Talk of neuroscience alchemy, but this is neither a mythical story, nor a pipe dream. The authors of the paper acknowledged that “the brain’s capacity for spontaneous regeneration is extremely limited”, but they cited studies which have shown that “under certain circumstances” such as brain injury and stroke, “parenchymal astrocytes and NG2 glia can generate neuronal progeny“. This story will have a happy ending when neuroscientists develop the capability for “reprogramming-induced neurogenesis“; this will be achieved by deploying “neurogenic reprogramming factors” to convert glial cells into nerve cells. All that is missing from the story so far is Prince Charming…to plant a reviving kiss on the injured brain cells.
One of the greatest misconceptions about the nervous system is the idea that the brain is somehow a detached command and control entity, firing off commands to its minions from whom it derives no benefits. Nowhere is this false idea most entrenched than in the assumption that the brain’s immune system is autonomous, uncoupled from the systemic immune system. And there isn’t a more eloquent way to dispel this false picture of immune privilege than this headline, the title of a review article published in 2006 in the journal Immunological Reviews. The authors of the paper cited several lines of evidence which they say have revealed that “the CNS is neither isolated nor passive in its interactions with the immune system”. Rather, the brain is hiding in plain sight, its unique microglial immune system disregarding the elaborate blood brain barrier to join forces with the body’s immune system. The editorialists stress that this new immune paradigm holds the promise of “opening the door for therapies” which may improve the outcome of such disorders as Alzheimer’s disease. Away with immune privilege, and in with the plebeians.
One of the pillars of the now discarded concept of immune privilege was the idea that the brain does not have a lymphatic drainage system. How the brain got rid of its waste was therefore a riddle, the resolution of which was made much harder by the hubristic idea that the brain was exceptional. It was therefore a major comedown for the brain when a group of researchers discovered that it indeed has a lymphatic system; and this is expressed most lucidly in the headline above, the title of an editorial published in 2015 in the journal Nature Reviews Neurology. The editorial was commenting on the breakthrough study published in the journal Nature, which showed that the brain’s lymphatics drain directly into the systemic lymphatic vessels, where they presumably exchange immune ideas. Realising that the brain has a sewage system comes with many upsides, the author of the editorial stating that it “could have important implications for understanding the mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory disease”. The brain drain is therefore a plumbing that is clearly worthier than its name.