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24-year-old woman missing entire cerebellum exemplifies the amazing power of brain plasticity


Cerebellum

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(NaturalNews) As the sensory organs absorb information from their surroundings, the messages are sent through the spinal cord and the nervous system to the cerebellum region of the brain, where the messages are then fine-tuned for motor learning, timing, coordination and fine movement.

Sometimes referred to as the "little brain," the cerebellum is located just underneath the left and right brain hemispheres. The tissues in the cerebellum are woven together much tighter and are much more compact than the upper hemispheres. The cerebellum makes up about 10 percent of the brain's total volume. Remarkably, the cerebellum harbors half of the brain's total amount of neurons!

Can you believe that there's a living 24-year-old woman who is missing her entire cerebellum? She even gave birth to her first child. The discovery was recently made at the Chinese PLA General Hospital of Jinan Military Area Command in the Shadong Province. After complaining about persistent dizziness and nausea, the woman sought medical assistance. For most of her life, she had an unsteady gait and slurred speech. She didn't learn how to talk until she was six years old and couldn't walk until she was seven. As she got older, her motor skills improved by some degree.

Upon administering a CAT scan, doctors quickly recognized the woman's underlying problem -- she had no cerebellum. At least 50 percent of the neurons in her brain were missing, but she still possessed considerable motor skills for having no cerebellum.

Instead of a normal cerebellum, she had a pocket of empty space filled with cerebrospinal fluid. The fluid acts like a cushion to defend her brain against disease. The doctors were astounded by the plasticity of the woman's brain and the coordination that she still had even though the cerebellum was missing. This case is the ninth recorded in medical history. Those with the rare condition usually die early, and the missing cerebellum is found in autopsy.

"These rare cases are interesting to understand how the brain circuitry works and compensates for missing parts," said Mario Manto, a brain researcher from the French-language Free University of Brussels in Belgium.

Her brain scan reveals that her motor skills may have been taken over by the cortex region of her brain. Problems in the cerebellum usually lead to severe mental impairment and movement disorders, but in this woman's case, the brain compensated, leaving her with only mild to moderate motor deficiency at age 24, defects which her doctors say are "less than would be expected."

Scientists studying the case believe that her brain compensated for the absent cerebellum through the years, and all of them consider her lucky to be alive. This case is a stunning example of neuroplasticity and the brain's ability to adapt itself to changes in behavior and the surrounding environment.

Those studying the woman's case wrote, "This surprising phenomenon supports the concept of extracerebellar motor system plasticity, especially cerebellum loss, occurring early in life."

Her brain scans can be viewed here.

Sources:

http://io9.com

http://www.newscientist.com

http://brain.oxfordjournals.org

http://www.washingtonpost.com

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