Brain Pulses Help Circuits Survive Immobilization

A high-fidelity map of Nico Dosenbach, MD, PhD’s brain while his dominant arm was in a cast for two weeks.

Nico U. Dosenbach, MD, PhD, associate professor of radiology and neurology, and his colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discovered previously undetected neuronal pulses in the human brain that activate after an immobilizing illness or injury.

For two weeks, Dosenbach wore a neon pink cast on his dominant arm to evaluate the neural networks that control movement. MRI data showed the brain’s main circuits responsible for movement in specific areas of the body disconnected within 48 hours of a person wearing a cast that encumbered movement in that area. Also during this time, “disuse pulses” emerged to maintain neural activity and allow the main motor circuits to reactivate if and when mobility was restored through physical therapy.

Dosenbach hopes his findings, which were published in Neuron, may advance treatment options for patients with immobilizing illness or injury.

Read more from the School of Medicine.