Dr. Mauro Zappaterra obtained his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard Medical School. He completed his Ph.D. doing work with neuronal stem cells and the effects of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in brain development and in the adult. He is published in numerous scientific articles on the CSF and his work was chosen as the cover image for the journal Neuron. He was also featured in the New England Journal of Medicine in teaching medical students about living with life threatening diseases and in Psychology Today on an article titled “Joy: The art of loving life.”
JC: Let’s jump right into it… at 14:02 in this video presentation (Science & Non-duality) you mention that CSF has the ability to transmit signals globally throughout the brain without synaptic activation and total synchronization of the brain at once. This seems extremely important in terms of understanding what is potentially transpiring mechanistically during mystical states. Would you mind elaborating on how you came across this information and what it implies?
MZ: This occurred to me when I was working in the lab, learning how to grow cells in a petri dish, or tissue explants in a petri dish, as well as looking at histology sections of brains. It occurred to me that everything that we did in the lab, required that we supplement the tissue with fluid on a consistent basis, and that the molecules that were in the fluid that I was providing to the petri dish were essential for the growth, survival, and proliferation, or differentiation of the tissue or cells. When I was looking at histology samples of brains, it occurred to me that very few people had actually looked at the fluid that was actually bathing the entire brain… which during early embryological development is the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), similarly to growing something in a petri dish. Therefore if I added a molecule, growth factor, or any important nutrient to the solution, through either osmosis, or me gently shaking the fluid… this would be distributed throughout the entire petri dish. Subsequently every cell would come into contact with the fluid and would be bathed with the nutrient, or growth factor that I added. This therefore would be analogous to a growth factor, nutrient, steroid, or protein that was released into the CSF for instance from the chloride plexus, or from neighboring tissues, and would go into the fluid to be distributed based on the fluid movements as well as via osmosis. One analogy for this would be that the CSF is the ocean, and the coast is the brain that is contacting the water at the coast. For instance, I live in California, and if one of my goals was to make the entire coast of California red, I could distribute a red compound into the oceans, and allow the waves to bathe the California coast.
Based on this observation, we started looking at specific molecules within the CSF, and their respective receptors on the membrane that was making contact with the CSF. It became apparent at that point that the fluid that was bathing the brain was providing information to the brain for not only survival, but also proliferation, and differentiation. Therefore, the information in the fluid, whether that is a nutrient, a hormone, a growth factor, or it’s fluid flow and dynamics is constantly providing information to the brain.
The implications of this, as you can imagine, are huge. Although we still don’t understand all the information that the cerebrospinal fluid could potentially convey to the brain, being it is a fluid, any signal that is placed in the fluid could potentially be distributed throughout the entire fluid and bathe the brain, as well as the interstitial fluid which we learned is the CSF as well through the glymphatic system bathing the entire brain. I give the analogy of melatonin released from the pineal gland.
JC: This is fascinating information as it seems that much of the focus on brain activity pertaining to fMRI imaging is focused on cerebral blood flow while the CSF is considered as being just a supportive fluid rather than a signaling medium. It seems clear that there is no “fixed in stone” model of how the brain works. One of the interesting things that people might not be aware of is that a lack of CSF production/turnover has been observed to correlate with nearly every age-related neurological disease to date (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Dementia). One would figure that this would be an emerging field of study. While it’s known that the choroid plexus produces CSF are there any other known places in the brain that produce CSF?
MZ: Exactly! Your intuition is right on. Also, everybody in the lab that I was working on was focusing on the cells themselves, which of course are important… however what was actually informing the cells? On a daily basis, I had to actually check the fluid of the petri dish and make sure that the incubator was working, there was no infection, and that there was enough fluid and growth factors for the cells to grow. It was simply asking the question, what is the endogenous fluid for the brain? Furthermore, the more that has been studied, such as the glymphatic system, which has been described as hidden caves and pathways within the brain that open up while we sleep, the first clear indication of why sleep is important has emerged, in that the CSF may actually clean out the the brain tissue and remove it from toxins that build up throughout the day. Although this has not been done in humans (to my knowledge) it would be assumed that a similar process is happening in humans. My hypothesis would be that this not only happens during sleep, but also other states of deep altered consciousness, such as meditative states as well or obtaining hands-on-healing modalities that might put you into deep states of relaxation. In essence, my hypothesis would be that deep states of a parasympathetic system would actually open up the channels that help flow the CSF through the actual brain tissue, and clean it out. While it is known as you mentioned, that the choroid plexus produces CSF, the brain tissue also produces CSF. Interestingly, they are finding nanoparticles within the cerebrospinal fluid that they are trying to figure out what their function is. Some people have actually found that essential growth factors such as fibroblast growth factor are actually present in these nanoparticles. There are nanoparticles that may be released from the choroid plexus, and nanoparticles that are also released from the brain parenchymal itself.
JC: It’s intriguing that brain tissue itself produces CSF! I’m curious to eventually better understand the role of astrocytes in this specific function especially being that astrocytes were just recently found to alter fMRI signaling without neuronal excitation. From my own research I definitely agree with your hypothesis that during enhanced relaxation (increased amplitude of slow waves theta/delta) physical channels of the brain open up to clean it out. I hadn’t heard about the nanoparticles but it seems like the complexity never stops. I’ve seen in your presentations that you mention endogenous chemicals such as melatonin and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). A recent study published by Jon Dean & Dr. Jimo Borjigin from the University of Michigan verified that the 2 key enzymes necessary to synthesize DMT from tryptophan were found colocalized in the mammalian brain (specifically the cerebral cortex, choroid plexus, and pineal gland). The researchers also found extracellular DMT in the cerebral cortex of normal, living rats at levels comparable to the common neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. In addition, following cardiac arrest, the rats exuded elevated levels of DMT in the visual cortex. I know that I’m biased but this seems like one of the most important studies of the year so far. What are you overall thoughts on endogenous DMT and the potential correlation with CSF?
MZ: I’m very excited about endogenous DMT research. First of all, localizing it is hugely important, as localization often times plays an important role in function. Furthermore, attempting to clearly understand its function, as well as its rhythm and cycles with not only possible variations during our lifetime, during the day, but even as the most recent study suggested, even dramatic variations at death. Although the study was performed following cardiac arrest, it can not yet be extrapolated that the DMT increases in the visual cortex for all causes of death. However fascinating, that DMT would increase in the visual cortex, given its possible role in visual images that people describe who have had near death experiences, of describing a white light, or even going through a life review.
In addition, it is incredible that the researchers also found that DMT was produced in the pineal gland, and the choroid plexus. The choroid plexus is a major producer of the cerebrospinal fluid. In addition, similar to melatonin that is produced in the pineal gland, the pineal gland also produces DMT. We know that DMT has been found in the cerebrospinal fluid. Therefore DMT most likely can be released into the cerebrospinal fluid via the choroid plexus or pineal gland, similar to melatonin, for volume transmission throughout the cerebrospinal fluid using the fluid and mode of transmission to the entire central nervous system bathing the entire brain and spinal cord.
As this research continues, it will be extremely interesting to determine what actually regulates endogenous DMT production and synthesis, as well as DMT distribution. In addition, attempting to elucidate its role as a biological molecule, will be exceptionally fascinating. What is it’s role on a daily basis, if it has one, or its role in certain life situations, such as the research has found an increase in the visual cortex during cardiac arrest? Furthermore are there states that can be induced through breathing, meditation, diet, exercise, that can induce increased DMT production, and what benefits may this have for an individual? Lastly, does exogenous DMT have any therapeutic role in medicine, healing, and obtaining higher states of consciousness for our continued evolution and for the betterment of mankind?
JC: I agree. The field of endogenous DMT research is a fascinating field that has only begun to scratch the surface. Being that you mentioned “hands-on-healing”, you have a unique background being that you are trained in classical brain research from Harvard Medical School but also have a background in eastern modalities such as Reiki Healing. For those of the readers that aren’t aware, Reiki is a form of distant healing in which a person emanates “energy” from their own body which effects the recipient. A “western” counterpart to Reiki might be considered “Therapeutic Touch”. Based on the studies to date, both Reiki and “Therapeutic Touch” seem to definitely have a positive effect on the recipient although the precise mechanisms aren’t completely deciphered it seems. What made you interested in pursuing the exploration of this healing modality and what was the reaction of your colleagues in traditional neuroscience?
MZ: Just like anything in life… this was a process, a journey, and a path. I’ve always had an inquisitive mind and always wanted to understand how things work. I recall being a small child, and having a poison oak skin rash on my arm that was causing me to want to itch severely. I recall asking myself… what exactly the sensation of this itch was? How was my brain perceiving this desire to itch? If my brain was perceiving the desire to itch, could I therefore satisfy the desire to itch without actually itching it? Was it possible to change my brain to make it seem as if the itch was being taken care of but yet not me having to scratch the area? I therefore stared at the poison oak rash, and told it… using my brain, that I was itching the area, without actually touching the rash. It seemed to me as if there were more to life than just our physical form. Growing up, my mother had always used herbs and tinctures, to try to heal us from colds or the flu and would rarely use Western World medications. Therefore, I sort of grew up with a sense of trying to use natural products first, before resorting to more potent medications with side effects that I was not necessarily interested in.
Having an inquisitive mind, I simply started asking myself who am I, and what am I? At that time, I was in college and I started studying developmental biology. If anyone studies embryology and our creation… there is an element of divine that takes place from the conception of an embryo to the development of an organism. Despite studying all the genetic interactions, molecular interactions, cellular interactions, there seemed as if there was an orchestrating plan that was beyond what was observed on the physical plane. So obviously becoming curious about what I would call this “divine orchestrating plan” was natural. And given that I was interested in developmental biology, there was still a question of how in fact are we created? This is still a question for me today. However, there seems to be something that is informing the physical plane. My friend and I would rub our hands together, and feel the heat emanating from our hands, and see how far from our hands could we actually feel the heat. This essentially was energy that we were feeling.
During this time period, I had also experienced healing modalities such as acupuncture and been interested in movement such as Tai Chi, Qigong, and breathing exercises.
I therefore thought, that fundamentally understanding the function of the human body was essential. I decided to go to medical school, and participated in a M.D. Ph.D program, for which there are four years of medical school, and approximately four to five years of Ph.D. work. While I was flying to Boston for medical school, I knew that I would be diving into anatomy and physiology texts, however I wanted to correlate some of the information with other less studied information that is not usually presented in medical school. I started looking at books of other healing modalities such as Chinese medicine, acupuncture, herbs, and becoming interested in things such as energy meridians and trying to understand if there was a correlate of these concepts in western medicine. I therefore started reading books such as Carolyn Myss’ book “Anatomy of the Spirit“, and other books that were talking about intuitive healers, energy workers, energy medicine, and integration of the Chinese medical system.
It was in medical school that I met my wife, who wanted to study a holistic healthcare system. We were looking at opportunities for her and she found the teachings of polarity therapy and an excellent School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I decided to take some time off of my studies, and support her in her quest and she asked me if I would participate in the courses with her. At first I was reluctant, however she persuaded me to initially participate in the first part of the course. I thought I would only participate in approximately four weeks of a course, however she then persuaded me to continue with the teachings. It was during these teachings, that we would constantly be working on each other, and on our physical and energetic bodies. I guess you could consider me the skeptic in the group, as I like things to be proven with science, physiology, and anatomy. However certain experiences that I had during this period were very profound and there may have not been any “scientific explanation” for them at this time. But that didn’t stop me from fully experiencing what happened, taking down notes, and just like any new discoveries that are made… making hypotheses and seeing if those hypotheses can be tested.
Anyways, so I had some fairly profound experiences and I noticed significant changes in my health and physiology. These were experiences that were gained through sessions of polarity therapy and craniosacral therapy. In addition, there was a profound sense of relaxation during some of these sessions, which helped me to become more in-tune with my own parasympathetic nervous system as well as learn how to regulate my nervous system. I also learned skills of listening and perception. I also gained a language with which I could speak to various healthcare practitioners… whether they were energy workers, intuitive healers, acupuncturists or Western medicine doctors, etc. Being able to communicate with as many healthcare practitioners, and understanding their language was important for me. The reaction from my colleagues has been mostly positive. I have a sense of being able to correlate energy medicine and cranio-sacral therapy to changes that are actually occurring in the body, physiologically. Therefore, if somebody is talking about the chakras, I can make reference to the nerve plexuses that are present anatomical features in our body. There are very few people who could argue that a modality that would cause relaxation, would have a negative effect on somebody. Therefore, I tend to bring it back to the central nervous system (balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic), as well as circulation, lymphatic flow, ease of movement of tissues, scar formation, wound healing, sleep, diet, etc., and speak to the benefits that many different healing modalities may have on all these different factors.
JC: What a fascinating journey you’ve been on Dr. Zappaterra! It appears as though you’ve been born a scientist being that questions are what drives the field and curiosity is the king of motivational factors to figure out the details. Researchers at Tufts University have some fascinating recent discoveries regarding the formation of physical structures following measurable bioelectric signaling. While it seems as though a large percentage of funding goes to genetic and biochemical research these days, bioelectricity seems vastly underfunded by comparison. Speaking of the field of bioelectric research, one of our favorite books to cite at DMT Quest is the “The Body Electric” by Dr. Robert O. Becker. One of his primary points of research was studying the regenerative abilities of salamanders. Are you familiar with his work at all, if so what are your thoughts on Becker’s work and what do you think of the current field of bioelectric research?
MZ: I am not familiar of the Becker’s work… I will look into it. No doubt I would likely be a fan. I have spoken with Levin (Tufts University Scientist) on the phone and he presented right before me at the Science and Non-Duality conference in 2017. Based on my gist it is very much still in its infancy. I’m thankful that people like Levin are alive who are investigating it. Right now I am more of a clinician and therefore my interest in applications would be humans such as regenerating limbs of people with amputations, growing new spinal cords cells in people with traumatic brain injury, altering bioelectric fields in people with depression, balancing bioelectric fields in people experiencing pain, or complex regional pain syndrome. We are not yet at that point… however that is my hope. Beyond this would be the level of the quantum. For instance if the positioning of electrons that make up an atom are in constant flux and movement, then can we actually intend the positioning of the electrons and atoms, such that the molecules change, and if the molecules change, then cells change, and therefore structure can change as well.
JC: What I find intriguing in parallel to Becker’s work is much like yourself, he was a clinician as well as a researcher. From what it seems, the real-time application of theories is what intrigues me the most. Recent findings allude to the autonomic nervous system as being intimately involved in stem cell proliferation which seems to fall in line with the potential of many different altered state inducing modalities (meditation, qi-gong, hypnosis, breathwork, etc.) to positively exploit. I happen to believe that the potential is immense. It’s also great that you immersed yourself within the field of polarity therapy and craniosacral therapy as these types of modalities need communicative bridges in terms of being presented to audiences of different backgrounds. Circling back to the discussion of your experiences in exploring holistic healing modalities with your wife… would you mind expanding on the types of profound experiences you had?
MZ: There were a few profound experiences, of just “Being” that occurred when we were doing hands on healing. We were becoming very interested in the practice of craniosacral therapy, and we wanted to practice simply palpating the cranium. One of the first things that we did was essentially take 30 to 60 minutes of our time and one of us would be holding the other person’s cranium and feel any subtle movements that would occur, as well as tapping into the inherent wisdom of the body. There were some profound experiences of actually feeling as if the bones in our cranium had shifted… as well as profound experiences of an energy emerging, almost feeling as if the energy that informed the tides of the ocean had permeated the room as if it was moving over us, through us, and around us. Something like a liquid matrix, bringing in a profound cleansing reboot, and centering, and helping to re-establish some sort of basic primordial force, and energy pattern. It became clear to us with practice that this energy was always present. However it was our awareness that shifted that allowed us to be aware of it, almost as if we were dialing into a specific frequency.
Another profound experience of the energy work was during our polarity therapy class, when my wife was giving me a session. When I was younger, I always felt as if I had a knot in my stomach, sort of at the level of the solar plexus. I really did not know what this was related to,and it would come up if I would have any worrying thoughts or anxious thoughts. It felt as if this knot was present approximately 70% of the time. We were in the middle of a session and we were doing some work on the umbilicus, in a protocol called the fire spiral, and all of a sudden… she was palpating the umbilicus, and I felt an energy arising and I suddenly burst into tears. I kept on crying for approximately 20 minutes or so and I didn’t really know why I was crying,… just that there was a huge emotional release that was occurring as well as I kept on saying “I’m sorry”. There was nothing specifically I was sorry about, but these were the words that were coming out. Up until that point, I’ve never had an emotional release such as that and therefore the entire class stopped and held space for the release to occur. I was not resistant to allowing it to occur, I just simply let the energy flow. It was such a profound release that I obviously did not complete the class that day. I simply drank some water, had some alone time for about 20 minutes, and then reconnected with my wife. Ever since that day, I have not had any more knots in my stomach, or any solar plexus tension at all.
From that day on I have completely trusted energy work and have been able to dive deeply into various modalities. This continued to become enhanced as I was practicing more craniosacral therapy and really connecting in with the fluid, and the fluid nature of my being and going with the flow of life.
There were other experiences of being in the middle of a craniosacral therapy session and essentially having the realization that THIS IS IT. That is all. THIS IS IT. This may be a little abstract, and a little vague, however it is difficult to put into words. Essentially, this moment, this, is it. That’s it, it’s not about this or that or that or this… it’s simply about everything that is occurring at this moment and connecting with the absolute miracle of that. The totality of existence at this point is an absolute miracle, and it is absolutely awesome, that we are HERE, experiencing THIS, right NOW.
JC: Fascinating stuff! It’s an honor that you shared that with the readers. It’s interesting that such subtle movements and types of pressure can induce such changes in awareness that coincide with sometimes perplexing experiences. The movement of the cerebrospinal fluid and it’s effect on consciousness (throughout the body) is a field ripe for deeper investigation. I must confess that I too have had an experience of releasing life-long tension or knots in the solar plexus which then led to a profound change in my awareness that has effected me immensely until this day. While some might state that the “gut brain” is one of the overlooked organs of our thought processes and emotion, the increase in CSF movement from the lower lumbar and up into the “cranial brain” also adds a layer of importance I believe. Some yoga and breathwork practices appear focused on inducing these types of alterations in the CSF movement via techniques such as the “Breath of Fire” via Kundalini Yoga, pranayama, and the Wim Hof Method. Would you mind giving your own description of polarity therapy? It sounds very interesting based on the Dr. Becker’s research of observing the direct current directional changes in the brain and body during altered states of consciousness as well as during limb regeneration.
MZ: Polarity therapy is a holistic therapeutic modality that integrates a number of various healing practices including Aryuvedic medicine and Chinese medicine to bring health and balance to the human energy system. Polarity therapy is an integration of hands on body work, nutrition, counseling of the mind and movement. One of the best analogies in terms of having a polarity therapy session is… it is like creating pure metal. You boil and boil and boil the metal, and the metal is liquid… and as you boil it, the impurities come to the top and the metal worker skins off the impurity… and continues to boil the metal, until there are no more impurities left to skim off the top.
JC: That sounds like a very holistic approach to wellness as it generally always should be in my eyes. In a different conversation I remember you mentioning that you are integrating Virtual Reality into some of your work. I believe that if utilized consistently, VR has tremendous potential to be effective tool for a wellness program. Would you mind discussing how you are experimenting with VR at your clinic?
MZ: My specialty is physical medicine and rehabilitation, and therefore we attempt to rehabilitate people from any injury that may have occurred to them or anything that they are dealing with in life. We deal with a lot of chronic pain, and therefore since I focus on non-pharmacological treatments of chronic pain we use virtual reality to try to help patients who have chronic pain decrease their pain. This is primarily done through the virtual reality system of appliedVR, which essentially teaches patients meditation, mindfulness, and distraction techniques. I link up the virtual reality system to Heartmath, which assesses heart rate variability, and see if the virtual reality with the training that is provided can actually help increase coherence with the heart rate variability monitor. Most patients learn the mindfulness techniques, and then are able to apply them throughout their daily life, without the use of the virtual reality system. Some patients will rent the virtual reality system, and bring it home with them to be able to use for home use.
JC: The potential seems immense being that it adds another layer of sensory feedback that can possibly restructure a person’s nervous system pathways for better signaling. This has been an intriguing conversation regarding your journey from curious kid, to Harvard scholar, to energy explorer, and now a clinician in practice! Your work regarding cerebrospinal fluid is very important and I think your presence online is much needed being that CSF seems clearly underappreciated and overlooked. I look forward to seeing the new ideas and modalities you develop in your clinic regarding holistic healing. Any closing thoughts or anything you’d like to share as we close out this fascinating conversation?
MZ: My initial intention is to simply make people aware of the cerebrospinal fluid within themselves, and the relationship the cerebrospinal fluid has to other fluids including the amniotic fluid that we are bathed in while we were in our mother’s womb. Many people are not aware that we have a fluid system in our mid line, in the middle of our brain, going down our spinal cord and bathing the outside of our spinal cord. Simply bringing your awareness to this fluid can be very powerful, and just see what happens. Once one is aware of the fluid, then one can start to have a relationship with the fluid. As one brings awareness to the fluid, and starts to have a relationship with a fluid, then one can intentionalize that we open up to the signals the fluid is transmitting and be receptive to the potency of this fluid. As one resides in their pure awareness allowing the fluid to bath them in a radiant glow of light and as bridge to our unlimited selfless potential.
– End Interview
It’s a rarity to find someone who has immersed themselves in what is largely considered “opposite worlds”. For someone to go through the intensive work of obtaining a medical degree (M.D.) and Ph.D. from Harvard University while simultaneously embracing the largely misunderstood eastern modalities of healing is extremely unique. While many who read this interview will find Dr. Zappaterra’s work regarding cerebrospinal fluid as important scientific research, they might have difficulties digesting his foray into “hands-on-healing” due to the stigma attached to it. I behoove those that have a true interest in finding the truths of reality to explore these issues first hand via direct experience. You might not only be surprised at the effects but also might find that these experiences help one’s own cognitive abilities integrate once disconnected perspectives of physiology into a more cohesive understanding. It’s my hypothesis that the conversation of endogenous DMT, cerebrospinal fluid, bioelectric influences on physiology, and eastern “energetic” practices will begin to overlap more and more in the coming years as people immerse themselves in exploration.
DMT Quest is a non-profit 501(c)3 dedicated to raising awareness and funds for endogenous DMT Research. This specific field of psychedelic research has been underfunded for many decades now. It’s time to take our understanding of human physiology, abilities, and perception to the next level. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions. You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.