AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 4, 2017

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First-of-its-kind Study Shows How Hand Amputation, Reattachment Affect Brain

When a person loses a hand to amputation, nerves that control sensation and movement are severed, causing dramatic changes in areas of the brain that controlled these functions. As a result, areas of the brain devoted to the missing hand take on other functions. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri have found evidence of specific neurochemical changes associated with lower neuronal health in these brain regions. Further, they report that some of these changes in the brain may persist in individuals who receive hand transplants, despite their recovered hand function. “When there is a sudden increase or decrease in stimulation that the brain receives, the function and structure of the brain begins to change,” said Carmen M. Cirstea, MD, PhD, research assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and lead author of the study. “Using a noninvasive approach known as magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to examine areas of the brain previously involved with hand function, we observed the types of changes taking place at the neurochemical level after amputation, transplantation or reattachment.”

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