Study Examines The Brain’s Involvement Post-amputation

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Psychologists have shown, for the first time, how the brains' plasticity and ability to adapt, extends across both sides of the brain, according to a new study by Bangor University, Northern Wales, United Kingdom. Functional MRI scans have shown how, in people who have lost one hand, the functions controlling the surviving hand extend across both brain hemispheres, according to Ken Valyear, PhD, lecturer and principal investigator of the Hand and Brain Lab at Bangor University's School of Psychology and first-author of the research paper.

This new understanding could help to develop new therapies for individuals who have lost or injured a limb and have implications for the development of prosthetic limbs designed to restore touch and feeling, he said.

"Different parts of our brain are devoted to feeling and moving different parts of our body, and normally, the left side of our brain responds when we feel something with our right hand, while the right side of our brain responds when we feel something with our left hand," Valyear said. "Our new findings reveal a startling change in this relationship. What we discovered is that when someone loses a hand, both sides of the brain respond when the remaining hand is touched. It is as if the part of the brain that was formally devoted to the now missing hand is given a new role, to help process information from the remaining hand."

Valyear added, "This new result extends our understanding of human brain plasticity. Moving forward, we have started some new work at Bangor that will help us to better understand the brain changes that follow serious injuries to the peripheral nerves of the hand."

Editor's Note: This story was adapted from materials provided by Bangor University.