Cerebral economics: shedding light on supply and demand in the developing brain.

Lead researcher

Dr Robert Galinsky

Main finding

In this perspective for The Journal of Physiology I highlight a recent study from Drs Nakamura, Walker and Wong from the Ritchie Centre, Hudson Institute of Medical Research. This elegant study provides critical insight into neurovascular coupling in the developing fetus by examining the local cerebral haemodynamic response to somatosensory (brain) stimulation.

Neurovascular coupling is a term used to describe the unique anatomical and biochemical interaction between cerebral blood vessels, neurons and glia. Specifically, neuronal and glial action potentials release chemical signals that interact with endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells and pericytes lining the penetrating arteries, arterioles and capillaries to induce regional vasodilatation and maintain local substrate supply. Although this phenomenon has been studied in the neonate and adult, there are limited data relating to the local blood flow response patterns during regional neural stimulation in the developing fetal brain.


The Ritchie Centre

Research group

Fetal Physiology and Neuroscience Group (Auckland, New Zealand)



Journal and article title

Most surprising

This study identified that the cerebrovascular response to brain stimulation differs depending on duration of stimulation. Furthermore, these response patterns were augmented by fetal hypercapnia. This is an important observation since fetal hypercapnia is commonly observed during obstetric complications such as chronic uteroplacental insufficiency and acute asphyxia.

Future implications

This elegant experimental preparation offers the possibility to gain important insight into the neuroanatomical and functional consequences of common antenatal complications, such as asphyxia, fetal growth restriction and inflammation / infection on the neurovascular unit. Additionally, it provides a unique opportunity to improve our understanding of the impact of candidate antenatal therapies on neurovascular health.

Disease/health impact

Perinatal neurology