Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Observing nerve cells rewire themselves after stroke damage.

In a technical tour de force, Winship and Murphy use the two photon imagining technique on living adult mouse brains to observe the individual neurons close to the site of damage caused by a stroke. In the first month — when paralysis is usually at its worst — they found that some neurons ditched their speciality for one particular limb and began processing information from multiple limbs. During the following month, as the affected brain region reorganized itself more permanently, those neurons re-specialized to a new single limb. Here is their abstract:
Functional mapping and microstimulation studies suggest that recovery after stroke damage can be attributed to surviving brain regions taking on the functional roles of lost tissues. Although this model is well supported by data, it is not clear how activity in single neurons is altered in relation to cortical functional maps. It is conceivable that individual surviving neurons could adopt new roles at the expense of their usual function. Alternatively, neurons that contribute to recovery may take on multiple functions and exhibit a wider repertoire of neuronal processing. In vivo two-photon calcium imaging was used in adult mice within reorganized forelimb and hindlimb somatosensory functional maps to determine how the response properties of individual neurons and glia were altered during recovery from ischemic damage over a period of 2–8 weeks. Single-cell calcium imaging revealed that the limb selectivity of individual neurons was altered during recovery from ischemia, such that neurons normally selective for a single contralateral limb processed information from multiple limbs. Altered limb selectivity was most prominent in border regions between stroke-altered forelimb and hindlimb macroscopic map representations, and peaked 1 month after the targeted insult. Two months after stroke, individual neurons near the center of reorganized functional areas became more selective for a preferred limb. These previously unreported forms of plasticity indicate that in adult animals, seemingly hardwired cortical neurons first adopt wider functional roles as they develop strategies to compensate for loss of specific sensory modalities after forms of brain damage such as stroke.

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