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MIT: Adult Brain Changes with Surprising Speed

July 30th 2009

The human brain can adapt itself to changing demands with unexpected speed, according to findings from MIT neuroscientists.
By Alfi Fernandez

The human brain, even in adulthood, can adapt itself to changing demands with unexpected speed, according to findings from neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The scientists’ findings also suggest that the human brain has a network of silent connections under its plasticity—connections that might explain “referred sensations,” in which an amputee feels sensations in the amputated limb.

"We found these referred sensations in the visual cortex, too," said senior author Nancy Kanwisher, according to Biotech Week. "When we temporarily deprived part of the visual cortex from receiving input, subjects reported seeing squares distorted as rectangles. We were surprised to find these referred visual sensations happening as fast as we could measure, within two seconds."

"But these distortions happened too quickly to result from structural changes in the cortex," added Kanwisher, according to Biotech Week. "So we think the connections were already there but were silent, and that the brain is constantly recalibrating the connections through short-term plasticity mechanisms."