The Amazing Plastic Brain


Sep 17, 2014 by Smart Blog

Recently, a 24-year-old woman in China went to hospital complaining of dizziness and nausea. She told doctors that she had been unable to walk completely steadily for as long as she could recall, and that she had not walked at all until she was seven years old.

She had a slight speech impediment, but otherwise seemed quite normal, so it is not difficult to imagine how shocked she and her doctors were, when medical scans revealed that she had no cerebellum, and indeed had apparently been born without one.

The cerebellum is a distinctive area of the brain and it is crucial to the control of movement and balance. It is also thought to be involved in the ability to learn and to speak.

Problems with the cerebellum frequently lead to severe impairment, seizures and death. Only nine people have ever been known to survive - for any period of time - with no cerebellum at all. Yet, this woman seemed virtually unaffected, and lived a normal life despite the fact that where her cerebellum should have been, she had a collection of fluid.



Although the case is still being investigated, doctors speculate that in this patient, the rest of the brain 're-wired' itself to compensate for the lack of cerebellum; a quality sometimes referred to as plasticity. In other words, the work that should have been done by a cerebellum was taken over by other parts of the brain, which adapted themselves to the purpose

Although such extreme cases are very rare, the plasticity of the brain has been recognised for some time. In 2007, the case was reported of a 44-year-old Frenchman, married with two children and a steady job, who went to hospital due to problems with his leg. As a child the man had suffered from - and been treated for - fluid on the brain, but his subsequent social and personal functioning appeared to be fine. However, when doctors scanned his head they found that his brain was vastly smaller than it ought to have been, in all areas, and the rest of his skull was filled with fluid. His entire brain was highly abnormal, yet somehow had managed to compensate for and adapt itself to this and allows the man to function normally.



The brain is a remarkably adaptable organ - and incredibly hard working. Every single day, the nerve cells (neurons) in the average human brain make millions upon millions of new connections, creating thoughts, generating actions and forming each individual's experience and personality.

Recent research shows that human brains produce new brain cells throughout life, and that brain health can be improved by exercising the brain, and by eating healthy foods. Scientists have recently discovered that the brain is even working hard when its 'owner' is asleep.

Despite its fundamental nature, the human brain is still mysterious in many ways and much remains to be discovered, however, one thing seems certain - the remarkable plasticity of the human brain will never cease to amaze and astound.