Built for Change – Rewiring Brain Maps

May 11, 2012 by
Filed under: Research, Spinewave Bulletin 

World-renowned neuroscientist and brain plasticity expert Dr Michael Merzenich discusses breakthrough research on brain plasticity in the video below. He also contributed to chapter 3 in Dr Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain that Changes Itself.

Michael Merzenich showed that brain maps, once thought to be largely static, are in fact highly flexible. Scientists have worked with brain maps for decades, noting that each part of the body can be mapped to a specific spot in the brain, and that these areas are usually adjacent, e.g. the spot in the brain mapped to the right hand would be adjacent to the spot for the right wrist, and so on. These areas tend to be similar for all humans with normal brains, which led scientists to conclude that these connections were hard-wired. Merzenich, starting with monkey experiments, showed that he could remap these connections at will by surgical intervention or even actions as simple as taping two monkey fingers together for a period of time.

I discuss the alterations of brain maps in our Parkinson’s case with the reversal of micropgraphia (small handwriting). Another simple example would be how a child learns to draw or colour in. They progress from gross motor movements, holding the crayon with a full clenched fist, to finely grasping the end of a pencil between the tips of the fingers as they get older and draw more complex pictures. These are the maps of the cortex growing, expanding and changing.

As a chiropractor, learning to touch and feel things was incredibly daunting at first. Everything felt the same. But with enough time and practice over many years, the finer nuances of all the differences in tone, form and structure became evident as my brain’s maps altered and become more acute. To the point where I went out for pizza one night with a friend after a busy shift: She picked up a piece and started to eat; I picked it up and dropped it in the same instant because it was so hot to me. I realised the sensitivity in my fingers as it related to the maps of my cortex have changed quite a lot over the years.

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