After a young boy had a large part of his brain removed, doctors were stunned to see how the human brain started to reorganize itself. The brain is a powerful “computer” that can rewire itself after responding to new factors – it reacts to drugs, it forms memories and in the 6-year-old boy’s case, it adapted after a sixth part of the brain was removed.
The boy’s case was documented in a study, which was published this week in the journal Cell Reports. Their findings were incredible. They saw that even though there was a large part of the brain missing – plus the part that would process visual input, the boy developed just like any other 10-year-old.
He has some problems on the left side of his field of vision, but the brain reconfigured some of the connections that would have been lost after the lobectomy. He can recognize people’s faces, and the case showed that the procedure not only was successful, but they also saw that the brain could adapt and reconnect some important functions.
The corresponding author of the study, Ph.D. Marlene Behrmann, who is also a professor of psychology (Carnegie Mellon University), stated in an interview:
“He is essentially blind to information on the left side of the world. Anything to the left of his nose is not transmitted to his brain, because the occipital lobe in his right hemisphere is missing and cannot receive this information.”
Epileptic Seizures – A Brain Tumor
The study begins by explaining that at the age of 4, the boy had epileptic seizures. The doctors soon found out that in the right hemisphere of his brain, there was a tumor growing in his occipital and temporal lobes. Treatments couldn’t fix the seizures, so doctors had to remove a third of the right hemisphere of the brain, the entire occipital lobe, and part of the temporal lobe.
The occipital lobe deals with visual processing and the temporal lobe with visual and auditory information.
The brain lost the ability to process visual information from the left eye, but the left hemisphere took some of the important tasks, such as facial processing, explains Behrmann:
“His visual behavior is excellent, absolutely normal. Even though he only has one visual system, it’s been reconfigured to do the work of both hemispheres.”
The boy had to visit the doctors for three years after the surgery to see how his brain adapted to the loss. In their study, doctors wrote that the left hemisphere is not meant to handle visual processing as the right one does, but the boy’s brain adapted:
“We saw a kind of jostling in the left hemisphere between regions engaged in word and face recognition, which resolved and settled into a new organization.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.