Out of energy? Slow down your brain.

Illustration for article titled Out of energy? Slow down your brain.

Your brain needs a lot of energy, with some regions of the brain constantly consuming as much energy as your legs would if you ran a marathon. Most of this energy comes from glucose, which is circulated through your blood vessels and then turned into ATP to power your cells. But what if your brain runs out of energy reserves?


Why does your brain need so much energy?

Individual molecules are used to transmit messages in your brain, and these molecules are often "held" at the end of a neuron. Electrical impulses, also known as action potentials, are transmitted across neurons, and this releases the chemicals. This release is not without cost, however, with much of the energy consumed by your brain used to create these electrical impulses due to the vast number of neurons and messages needed to be sent by your brain. This video offers a really good, in-depth discussion of action potentials and neurons.

Slowing down a brain

While slowing down your brain might not be exactly what you would want to happen, it could be of great help to individuals with a high risk of stroke or at risk for other negative brain-related issues. Chris Peers, one of the researchers involved in the study, says:

Our new findings suggest that if brain cells run short of energy, they start to work more slowly. However, it is better to work slowly than not at all. It is possible that this discovery could, in the long term, lead to new treatments for patients who have problems with circulation to the brain, placing them at higher risk of conditions such as stroke.

These findings came about through studying a potassium channel, K2.1; a channel that regulates how often action potentials are processed in neurons. When AMPK was in the presence of K2.1, the frequency of action potentials across the channel was decreased, suggesting that the general act of neuron firing could be controlled. AMPK is stimulated by larges changes of the energy molecule ATP to the lower energy molecule ADP and the "no" energy molecule AMP, an event that occurs when your body is consuming a lot of resources. The protein then begins to work, switching off energy consuming processes in cells, including the "firing" on neurons. The researchers, a combination of groups at the Universities of Leeds, Edinburgh, and Dundee funded by the Wellcome Trust, have been spent years examining the AMPK system. Their recent discoveries were a happy accident to Professor Graham Hardie,studying the problem at the University of Dundee, who said,

When we first defined the AMPK system by studying fat metabolism in the liver back in the 1980s, we had no idea that it might regulate completely different functions in other organs, like nervous conduction in the brain.

Illustration for article titled Out of energy? Slow down your brain.

Pharmaceutical Possibilities

Rosiglitazone and Metformnin, two pharmaceuticals used to treat type 2 diabetes, have also been shown to stimulate AMPK, and would be naturals as they may already be in use by patients at risk for stroke. Also, Rosiglitazone (brand name, Avandia) will be available in a generic form sometime next year, possibly making this a cost efficient, preventive treatment for strokes.


You can read the entire article, Phosphorylation of the voltage-gated potassium channel Kv2.1 by AMP-activated protein kinase regulates membrane excitability, for free through the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Images courtesy of GlaxoSmithKline and Shutterstock. Sources linked within the article.


Corpore Metal

The brain is one of the most energy expensive organs in our body. At one twentieth our mass it consumes about a fifth of our daily energy intake. As I recalled this consumption doesn't vary much throughout the day, even as we sleep, even as we daydream.

But it would be interesting to note if concentrating really hard burns more glucose or not. I don't think it does. Concentration seems like a big deal and hard to do for our conscious minds, but really, if we look at the some total of brain activity the labor involved in concentration is probably pretty minor in comparison to all the rest the stuff the brain is furiously doing from millisecond to millisecond.

I don't think it's really possible to "think hard" and give your body a workout like vigorous walking up hills or bike riding does. Human metabolism and energy management has got to be a lot more complicated than that.