Did you know that human brain can quickly change after an injury of illness? A neurologist proved it through a pink fiberglass cast. He encased his healthy right arm for two weeks and proved the point.
Dr. Nico Dosenbach scanned his brain daily. The scan showed circuits controlling his immobilized arm disconnected from the body’s motor system within 48 hours. But, his brain began to produce new signals. They were meant to keep those circuits intact and ready to reconnect quickly with the unused limb.
Dosenbach is an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine. He performed same on two colleagues. The result was same. And, in all three the disconnected brain circuits reconnected after the cast was removed.
The study is published online in the journal Neuron. It shows that “within a few days, we can rearrange some of the fundamental, basic functional relationships of the brain,” says Dosenbach. Apparently it is possible to reverse brain changes caused by disuse of a limb after a stroke or brain injury.
Disability might be helped
The results of the study appear to support the use of something called constraint-induced movement therapy or CIMT. It helps people, usually children regain the use of a disabled arm or hand. This is by constraining the other, healthy limb with a sling, splint or cast.
Previous studies of CIMT have produced mixed results. Maybe because they focused on brain changes associated with increased use of a disabled arm, Dosenbach says. “We looked at the effect of actually not using an arm because we thought that was a much more powerful intervention,” he says.
Brain Scan Ritual
Every day at 5 a.m. Dosenbach went in for a brain scan. He says those scans revealed dramatic changes in the first few days. “The brain is very stable unless it has to change,” he says. “And then it can change at a rate, and at a scale, that I never would have thought possible until [I saw] the results from the study.” The scans also showed that as circuits involved in controlling the idle arm began to fade, a new signal appeared in the brain, Dosenbach says.