Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Some Science: A Plastic Brain

Image courtesy of http://www.sciencecentric.com/images/news/plastic_brain_300_400.jpg

Background: Brain plasticity (also referred to as neuroplasticity, cortical plasticity or cortical re-mapping) is the changing of our brain cells (neurons) and their organization. Our brains ability to be altered in this way by environmental stimulation is at its strongest during infancy. Prior to the 20th century, it was thought that most areas of the adult brain were fixed and incapable of change.

How: In the 1990's researchers from the University of Kansas demonstrated that spider monkeys, who had suffered a stroke (and resultant death of a cluster of brain cells and partial loss of body function) could be made to repeatedly extract food from a small container using their non-functioning hand. This showed that even adult brains were capable of re-wiring themselves. In other words healthy brain cells could bypass the dead cells and make new connections with other healthy neurons. That is, brain plasticity, which could be physically proven by brain dissection after death of the animal.

More info: Proving this same level of brain plasticity in humans has been difficult as you can't exactly dissect a living human. However, recent advances in brain imaging has meant that there is mounting evidence for human brain plasticity. Intensive, repetitive exercise to the non-functioning body part is accompanied by brain re-mapping.

In a recent study seven patients, blind in part of their visual field as a result of stroke, were asked to guess the direction in which a small dot was moving with an accompanying chime if they guessed correctly. The patients guessed that they had seen the dot all the while convinced that they indeed did not see it. Initially they guessed correctly 50% of the time but after weeks of training this increased to 80-90%. The signals reaching the brain are possibly bypassing the damaged brain cells and taking visual information to higher visual centres in the brain. Intensive training would be aimed at expanding and stimulating the re-routing of brain pathways.

This is such exciting news considering how devastating stroke is on the sufferer and their families. Let us hope that this research continues so that all stroke patients can have a chance of recovery.

References:
Science 1996; 272:1791-94.
Journal of Neuroscience 2009; 29:3981-91.

13 comments:

Suko said...

This is truly fascinating. I enjoy the science posts on your blog.

septembermom said...

Thank you for sharing this important health information. I find it always amazing to learn how our brains and bodies work. Thanks Mervat! You taught me something today:)

lakeviewer said...

Isn't it terrific? We have hope and challenges ahead of us.

Louis said...

maybe I'm a geek, but this is one of the coolest post I've read in a while. Thank you.

see you there! said...

Our PBS tv stations have a series of shows on neuroplasticity. I find them fascinating. Thanks for the post on this topic.

Darla

lunarossa said...

Very interesting. I hope this discovery will lead to some groundbreaking improvements in treatment. Thanks for posting this. All the best. Ciao. Antonella

Martin Walker said...

Just as you say, the recent research on brain plasticity has been amazing. Using detailed brain scans, scientists have been able to show which brain areas get activated when we do or think about things.

In a study on Improving Fluid Intelligence by Training Working Memory (PNAS April 2008) scientists recorded increases in mental agility (fluid intelligence) of more than 40% after 19 days of focused working memory training. Working memory training has since been shown to stimulate new nerve cell production in the brain. Exciting times!

My company publishes brain training software that employs the training protocol used in the former study. Customers have reported great benefits from working with the training at home.

Martin
http://www.mindsparke.com
Effective, Affordable Brain Training Software

Warren Baldwin said...

The Bible says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. This kind of information confirms that.

Lilly said...

Now that was interesting reading and wonderful news. Very exciting and fingers crossed the research continues.

lunarossa said...

Hope you're all well there, Mervat. Miss you! Ciao. A.

The Writing Instinct said...

Suko: Thank you as always!

septembermom: you are so welcome. As much as I love science and research, I enjoy it so much more when i can share it with others.

lakeviewer: There is always hope despite the challenges.

Louis: From one geek to another this really is cool stuff. Thank you so much for your comment and interest. It means alot.


Darla: I think anything involving neurones and the brains borders on the unknown in so many ways that research like this is reassuring.

lunarossa: Thank you again. We hope and pray together. And thank you fo ryour concern. I have been really busy (as most people I am sure) and unfortunately the first thing to be affected is my blogging. I will again be distracted again as per the next post to come.

Martin Walker: Thank you for your interesting comment. I have been involved in similar research however finding volunteers is very difficult. The software you discuss sounds very interesting as well. I will explore it further Thanks again.

Warren Baldwin: Beautiful, thank you.

Lilly: All it takes is money, money, money to keep good research going but unfortunately there is never enough to go around particularly in this field.

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