The brain and its capacity to rewire is indeed a fascinating nature. Now, scientists say that people who have had half of their brain surgically extracted in childhood are more than able to show fairly normal cognitive aptitudes due to the organ’s ability to reconnect with itself.
For the research, experts from the California Institute of Technology analyzed the cognitive and sensory and also motor functions of six participants in the study. Those adults underwent a rare surgery known as hemispherectomy, where half of the brain is removed or separated from the other part.
Hemispherectomies are executed in severe cases of epilepsy where patients have refractory seizures that can put in danger the healthy hemisphere of the brain. Another case in which these procedures are performed is in patients who have a neurological illness that has an extremely negative effect on one part of the brain.
This operation is most usually carried on children because their developing brain is more compliant than adult brains, and hence they are more prone to compensate for the removal of one part of the organ.
In the research, the six patients had one of the brain hemispheres removed when they were children, aged sometime between three months and 11 years.
The study scanned the brains of the subjects utilizing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. The researchers then compared the images to the scans of healthy people and found out that the scans of the patients subjected to surgery show their brain networks that control walking, talking, and some other functions being strikingly integral.
“Despite missing an entire brain hemisphere, we found all the same major brain networks that you find in healthy brains with two hemispheres,” lead author Dorit Kliemann, a cognitive neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, explained in a press release.
Moreover, the researchers found out that there were, in fact, more connections between the brain networks in people who had hemispherectomies than in the healthy participants.
Even though the majority of brains use both parts to function, the scientists said that their study proves that brains can adapt by enhancing the existing pathways in the remaining hemisphere.
More Research is Needed
Due to the fact that scientists only analyzed the participants’ brains while they were in a resting state, they could not observe how the rewiring in their brain bluntly affects their actions.
The researchers said they intend to study to determine the cause of this behavior in hemispherectomy patients in the future. Lynn Paul, a senior research scientist and main investigator at the California Institute of Technology, said that she hopes their study will help people make more knowledgeable decisions about surgeries and healing.
“We hope that a better understanding of how the brain is compensating in people who have optimal outcomes will eventually inform targeted intervention strategies for future hemispherectomy patients,” she said.
The study was published in the journal Cell Reports. It was only possible by financing from The Brain Recovery Project: Childhood Epilepsy Surgery Foundation, an organization established by the parents of a child who suffered a hemispherectomy.