The brain can rapidly reorganise to recover from damage

May 04, 2007
The brain can rapidly reorganise to recover from damage
The brain reorganises itself after parts of it become damaged. Credit: iStockphoto

The brain can transfer specific functions to new areas when part of it is damaged, according to Oxford research.

The findings, published in Neuron, are relevant to understanding processes of recovery after stroke.

When brain damage occurs in stroke patients, activity in undamaged parts of the brain often increases. This is particularly prominent in patients with poor recovery.

However, it was not clear whether this was a cause of slow recovery, with activity in the brain becoming chaotic, or part of an adaptive process that helps recovery – the brain trying hard to transfer function over to the healthy hemisphere.

To find out, Dr Jacinta O’Shea and colleagues in the Department of Experimental Psychology and the Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain simulated brain damage in healthy volunteers by using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), temporarily disrupting normal activity in the premotor cortex (a part of the brain that enables people to select which movement to make).

Participants were then asked to perform a task whose success depended on normal levels of activity in the premotor cortex: they had to make one of two finger movements depending on which of several shapes was presented on a computer screen.

As would be expected, after the simulated brain damage participants were initially slower at selecting the correct response. However, after four minutes, performance was back to normal. ‘This suggested to us that the brain might have reorganised itself to compensate for the interference’, says Dr O’Shea.

By imaging participants’ brains, the researchers confirmed that during recovered performance there was increased activity in undisrupted parts of the brain. As final confirmation, they tried disrupting one of the newly active brain areas – and, as predicted, performance on the task was once again impaired. The function of the ‘damaged’ brain area had been moved to the ‘healthy’ half of the brain.

The transfer was specific to the function of the premotor cortex, and it happened only when it was needed for the job,’ said Dr O’Shea. ‘The speed of the reorganisation was also impressive: the brain temporarily reconfigured itself in a matter of minutes.

‘Our findings show just how flexible the brain is.’

Source: University of Oxford

Explore further: Ultrasound enhancement provides clarity to damaged tendons, ligaments

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists given rare glimpse of 350-kilo colossal squid

27 minutes ago

Scientists said Tuesday a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic.

Indonesia to ratify ASEAN haze agreement

1 hour ago

Indonesia's parliament on Tuesday voted to ratify a regional agreement on cross-border haze as fires ripped through forests in the west of the country, choking neighbouring Singapore with hazardous smog.

White House backs use of body cameras by police

3 hours ago

Requiring police officers to wear body cameras is one potential solution for bridging deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public, the White House said, weighing in on a national debate sparked by the shooting of ...

Recommended for you

A better way to track emerging cell therapies using MRIs

Sep 19, 2014

Cellular therapeutics – using intact cells to treat and cure disease – is a hugely promising new approach in medicine but it is hindered by the inability of doctors and scientists to effectively track the movements, destination ...

User comments : 0