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Carnegie Mellon neuroscientist proposes new theory of brain flexibility
Date:11/15/2007

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A unique characteristic of the theory is that it can accurately predict the change in brain activation that results from some types of brain damage or disease. For example, if a stroke damages the part of the brain known as Brocas area which is located in the left prefrontal cortex and is involved in language processing the corresponding site on the right side of the brain often becomes activated during language processing, even within hours after a stroke. According to 4CAPS, the same dynamic allocation mechanism that allows brain areas to volunteer themselves on a moment-by-moment basis would also come into play if Brocas area were damaged, and would allow any excess computational load to spill over to the right hemisphere mirror site on a more permanent basis. Another example occurs with Alzheimers disease, where the damage to some brain areas causes additional helper areas to be recruited to perform a task, additional areas that are not typically used by control subjects who do not have the disease.

Many brain-imaging studies have shown as the nature of the task changes, so does the set of activating brain areas, said Just, the D.O. Hebb Professor of Psychology. It is as though substitutions of team players are being made dynamically in response to changes in the game.

We credit this dynamic mechanism with the fluidity or adaptability of human intelligence, and with much of the plasticity that occurs with learning or with recovery from brain damage, Just said.

4CAPS provides a framework for scientists and medical researchers to better understand nascent topics in neuroscience, such as how brain areas communicate and collaborate with one another during the thought process and how this can go awry. For example, Just and his colleagues have proposed an influential theory of autism, called the underconnectivity theory, that attributes the disorder to poor connectivity and hence communication between frontal areas
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Contact: Jonathan Potts
jpotts@andrew.cmu.edu
412-268-6094
Carnegie Mellon University
Source:Eurekalert

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