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Brain May Be Less Plastic Than Hoped

MRI data is subject to interpretation, the researchers checked their results with a second method. They placed tiny electrodes on the cortex and measured electrical activity in the visual cortex; mapping virtually the same cortical quiet zones. The results confirmed the fMRI readings.

Smirnakis said it is possible that the visual cortex could reorganize before or after the two- hour to seven-month time frame of his study. Other research has suggested that the visual cortex adapts somewhat immediately after injury. “And it is possible that, years after injury, the visual cortex could begin to reorganize,?he said.

“Since there is similar organization across the neocortex of the brain, we could speculate that functional new connections mediating reorganization may also be difficult to form elsewhere,?Smirnakis added. “Reorganization in these areas might then depend more on the modification of existing patterns of connectivity, be it subcortical, feedback, or other broad area-to-area connections. Of course, that is highly speculative. It is also conceivable—although in our opinion less likely—that in neocortical areas other than the primary visual cortex, new functional connections may have an easier time forming, and axonal sprouting may occur over longer distances.?/p>

The study also establishes fMRI as a valid method to measure reorganization in the monkey brain, Smirnakis added. Similar studies could one day show scientists how to help the brain to recover from injuries. “In humans, studying brain reorganization is difficult. Cortical injuries are not happening in a controlled fashion, and resulting data consequently are difficult to interpret,?he said. “But in the macaque, you can design lesions and test pharmaceuticals to sort out what kind of reorganization the brain is capable of after, say, a stroke. It's a powerful way to stimulate and study reorganization that may turn out to be beneficial in the future.?/p>
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Source:Howard Hughes Medical Institute


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