After a brain injury, activity may be better than rest for a quicker recovery, in mice at least, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature.
Until now, the belief has been that anyone suffering from brain injury should take it easy for at least a few days or weeks, but a team from Columbia University found that re-engaging the brain immediately after injury could be more helpful in recovery than resting.
The findings were "completely unexpected."
"Lengthy rest periods are supposed to be key to the brain's healthy recovery," Randy Bruno, the study's senior author, said in a statement.
He noted that the study underscored the brain's complexity and also provided "a new avenue of research into more effective rehabilitation efforts for serious brain injuries."
For the study, researchers focused on the cerebral cortex, which is the largest region of the brain and is instrumental in functions such as sight, smell, movement, and memory.
Central to their experiment was the cerebral cortex, called the barrel cortex in mice, which senses and analyzes signals when a mouse moves its whiskers to strike objects.
The mice were placed in a dark box and trained to use their whiskers to search for a nearby object. It was previously believed that such as detection task depended upon a functioning sensory cortex but the researchers suspect that other, more primitive brain regions could be involved.
"Rather than being confined to one particular brain region, sensory information is distributed across many areas," said Y. Kate Hong, the paper's first author. "This redundancy allows the brain to solve problems in more than one way -- and can serve to protect the brain in case of injury."
Bruno said their research cannot be applied to human beings, however, the findings may help neurologists further explore methods to improve recovery times for their patients who have suffered brain injury. This, he said, extends to stroke survivors.
Stroke is considered to be the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the U.S. and impacts the lives of roughly 795,000 people each year, The Stroke Center noted.
If research could find a way to reduce the recovery time in those patients, their quality of life could be regained.
"We tend to immobilize people when they've suffered a stroke; the recovery of seemingly simple tasks — walking, grasping — can be a long road," Bruno said. "Our findings suggest that maybe, in some cases, patients could be reintroduced to these activities much earlier in order to speed recovery."
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