Sunday, February 9, 2014

Juggling and brain function growth plasticity...

No I cannot grow a missing corpus callosum & neither can science (yet, but that is way too Frakenstein for me to even consider) but the long assumed evidence is in.  We knew the brain remained largely plastic cells continuing to grow and migrate throughout the body until about age 26, with the rapid development of the nervous system slowing down about then...but this is amazing:

Did you know that neuroscientists are now getting into the juggling act? Brain researchers at the University of Regensburg (Germany) have found that learning to juggle can change brain structure.



The researchers divided 24 people into two groups:

  1. The Juggling Group: 12 subjects learned a three-ball cascade juggling routine. 
    They were considered to be skilled jugglers when they could juggle for 60 seconds.
  2. Non-Juggling Group: 12 subjects had no juggling practice.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging was used to measure the size of different areas within the brains of the subjects. Brain scans were taken before anyone practiced juggling, three months after the jugglers practiced and three months after the jugglers stopped practicing.

At the first brain scan, there were no differences in the brains of the study participants. However, at the second brain scan, a significant expansion was found in two areas (the mid-temporal area and left posterior intraparietal sulcus) within the brains of jugglers. These two areas of the brain are important for processing information related to moving objects. No changes were seen in the brains of non-jugglers at the second scan. At brain scan #3, after the jugglers stopped juggling, the brain expansion seen earlier was reduced. 

This data suggest that learning new skills can alter brain structure. However, it is unclear what exactly caused the brain changes. The expansion in the two brain areas may have been caused by an increase in the number of nerve cells, glial cells or synapses.

Further research may provide therapies for people who have brain damage. For example, it may be possible to design an exercise program to target a specific area of the brain to repair damage and restore function.  I think we have a long way to go, but it's nice to see the archaic "you'll only ever have what you were born with, and it's all downhill from there" view of the brain and nervous system, begin to choke and die.  I foresee great promise and development for the betterment of us all with thinking like this.

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