Medicine 65: A Scientist’s Pink Cast Leads to Discovery of Brain Pulses That Keep Disused Circuits Active

Grades: 9 - 12

For Nico Dosenbach, MD, PhD there’s nothing unusual about conducting research using his own body. Dosenbach used a MRI for a brain scanning experiment that involved casting his right arm in order to immobilize his primary arm, wrist and hand to simulate a stroke-like impact. He wanted to know about the adult brain’s ability to adapt and rewire itself responding to functional changes. Other researchers cast their arms and had MRIs too, adding more data to the project. In the brain scans, they found previously undetected brain pulses that activate quickly, within two days. The research team discovered that during the two weeks the casts were worn, participants’ brains produced spontaneous pulses that seemed to maintain neural activity in the disused circuits. “One thought is that these are actually protective pulses in the sense that the brain partially, at least, expects the arm to come back into action.” This allowed the main motor circuits to reactivate after the casts came off. Science in Research, Science in Practice videos give scientists an opportunity to share their work investigating a wide array of scientific topics.