"What this tells us is that the parts of the brain processing sensory information are extremely adaptive and can strengthen in the presence of limited sensory input," Barth said.
In another experiment, Barth found something more surprising ?a single-whiskered mouse was more likely to generate new brain activity than a mouse with a whisker on one side of its head and a full complement of whiskers on the other side.
"These findings show us that a fully functioning set of whiskers on one side of the body dramatically inhibits the ability of a single whisker to remodel the brain," said Barth. "This finding suggests that we could boost the brain's plasticity if we 'turn off' sensory input from the opposite side of the body."
Hypothetically, in a clinical setting, doctors could temporarily remove a patient's ability to see, hear, smell or touch on one side of the body to force the same sense on the other side of the body to expand its activity within the brain, thereby remodeling it to perceive a limited sensation much better.
This kind of "forced use" therapy is already applied in the clinic for patients with motor deficits. For example, a patient who suffers a brain injury is made to use a poorly performing arm with the expectation that the brain may be plastic enough to assist that arm in recovering motion.
"We think that our well-designed model is extremely good for future in-depth studies of brain plasticity in response to changes in how an animal senses its environment. Ultimately, we want to understand at the molecular level the dynamic between sensory use and neural plasticity," Barth said.
Source:Carnegie Mellon University