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Adaptive plasticity in amputees

The loss of a limb will have a profound impact on an individual’s daily life. Nevertheless, individuals can employ a variety of behavioural strategies to adapt to the loss of, say, a hand. Some become skilled at using the residual part of their arm, while others prefer to rely on their other hand. Their brain, too, will undergo major changes. Many studies have shown that the region of the brain which controlled a given limb can be “taken over” by another part of the body if that limb is lost. This process has been previously considered to be harmful, as it has been linked to experiences of pain arising from the missing limb.

We explore the links between changes in the behaviour of individuals missing a hand and changes in their brains. To this end, we observe the behaviour of people who were born without a hand or who lost a hand in later life in natural settings (either at the comfort of their own homes, or using “daily” tasks in the lab). Our findings show that the way individuals choose to compensate for their disability has profound effects on brain organisation and reorganisation, with exciting implications on future neurorehabilitation treatments to enhance adaptive plasticity.


Related publications: 

Makin, T. R., Scholz, J., Slater, D. H., Johansen-Berg, H., & Tracey, I. (2015). Reassessing cortical reorganization in the primary sensorimotor cortex following arm amputation. Brain138(8), 2140-2146.

Hahamy, A., Sotiropoulos, S. N., Slater, D. H., Malach, R., Johansen-Berg, H., & Makin, T. R. (2015). Normalisation of brain connectivity through compensatory behaviour, despite congenital hand absence. eLife4. 

Makin, T. R., Cramer, A. O., Scholz, J., Hahamy, A., Slater, D. H., Tracey, I., & Johansen-Berg, H. (2013). Deprivation-related and use-dependent plasticity go hand in hand. Elife2


Avital Hahamy & Rafi Malach, Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel