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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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New Research May Aid Future Treatments for Spinal Cord Injury


"The more we learn about these types of changes, the more we may be able to help patients in the future," Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "These findings are equally applicable to treatment of spinal cord injury and brain injury." Ramachandran is professor and director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego.

Jain agrees that this research might eventually lead to new treatment approaches in spinal cord injury and stroke. "Even without intervention, the brain is capable of this kind of growth," he says. Perhaps we could encourage remodeling of the brain to allow healthy parts of the brain to take over functions ordinarily assumed by impaired areas."

Ramachandran explains that patients with spinal cord injury or stroke that causes their arm to not have normal feeling may think you are touching their arm if you touch their face. "The brain cells that ordinarily receive sensation from the hand area are 'hungry' for sensory input, as the spinal cord injury or stroke cuts off sensation from the affected hand and prevents it from reaching the appropriate brain area," he says. "So sensory input from the face now is redirected to the hand area of the brain."

And that's just what Jain found. Touching the spinal cord-injured monkeys on the chin triggered nerve impulses that were recorded over the part of the brain ordinarily receiving sensory input from the hand. Additionally, nerve fibers grew from the area that responds to face stimuli to the area that responds to hand stimuli in the brainstem.

More information on spinal cord injury and ongoing research can be found at the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation web site.

Vital Information:

  • A new study in monkeys shows that after spinal cord injury, the lower part of the brain experiences new growth of nerve fibers.
  • In the past, scientists have believed that nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord of adult humans have limited capacity to grow back, but that belief is now being questioned.
  • The growth of even a few new fibers in the brainstem can have far-reaching effects on the reorganization of the brain.
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