The blood vessel network can adapt over time and form a kind of memory

Networks adapt over time and thus form a kind of memory. This is the central result of a new study by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen and the Technical University of Munich. They show that the structure of the blood vessel network is dynamic and can adapt to external factors. In particular, the scientists found that connections that are rarely used become weaker and weaker until they finally disappear.

The vascular system in our body provides a constant flow of nutrients, hormones and other resources, ensuring efficient transport. Researchers Komal Bhattacharyya, David Zwicker and Karen Alim examined how such a network can adapt and change over time. Using computer simulations, they modeled the network and identified adjustment rules for its connections.

We have found that the strength of a connection within a network depends on the local flow. This means that below a certain threshold, connections with low flux will decay more and more until they finally disappear.”

Karen Alim, corresponding author of the study

Since the amount of biological material to build up the vasculature is limited and should be used efficiently, this mechanism offers an elegant way to tighten the vasculature.

Changes in the network are permanent

Once a connection has become very weak due to a low flow rate, it is very difficult to restore that connection. A common example of this is the occlusion of a blood vessel, which in the worst case can even lead to a stroke. During a stroke, some blood vessels in a certain area of ​​the brain become very weak due to the blockage in blood flow. “We have found that in such a case, adjustments in the network are permanent and persist after the impediment is removed. It can be said that the network prefers to reroute flow through existing stronger links rather than re-establishing weaker links – even when the flow would require the opposite,” explains Komal Bhattacharyya, lead author of the study.

With this new understanding of network memory, the researchers can now explain that blood flow changes permanently even after the clot has been successfully removed. This storage capacity of networks is also found in other living systems: the slime mold Physarum polycephalum uses its adaptive network to navigate its environment based on imprints from food stimuli, as shown previously.


Magazine reference:

Bhattacharyya, K., et al. (2022) Memory formation in adaptive networks. Physical Verification Letters.

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