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Sometimes, Brain Halves Overcommunicate

August 20, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Functional MRI has revealed an odd reason for the typical slowdown in physical response time as we age. And there may be a simple way to counteract the age-related deterioration.

A University of Michigan study says the slowdown results from too much communication between the two halves of the brain, according to a university news release.

During motor activities that involve only one side of the body, a part of the brain called the corpus callosum acts to prevent unwanted cross talk between the two halves of the brain. At other times, the researchers say, the corpus callosum acts to facilitate cross talk when it’s helpful, such as during certain cognitive functions or certain physical actions that involve both sides of the body.

Previous studies have shown that brain cross talk during certain motor tasks increases with age. This new study is apparently the first to show that it happens even when older adults are at rest, said Rachael Seidler, PhD, lead author of the study. Dr. Seidler is an associate professor in the Michigan School of Kinesiology and Department of Psychology, and also is an associate professor in the neuroscience graduate program and a research assistant professor in the Institute of Gerontology.

The researchers gave joysticks to older (65 to 75) and younger (20 to 25) volunteer subjects and measured their response times. Using fMRI, the researchers also measured activity in different parts of the brain. The older subjects showed slower response times but greater cross talk. They also showed greater cross talk even when at rest.

It seems, said Dr. Seidler, that when both sides of the brain activate while one side of the body tries to move, confusion and slower responses result. “The more they recruited the other side of the brain, the slower they responded,” she said.

Dr. Seidler’s group is trying to develop motor training activities that might strengthen or maintain the corpus callosum to limit cross talk. She said a previous study by another group showed that three months of aerobic training helped to rebuild the corpus callosum.

So we have yet another incentive to get up off the couch and get moving, especially as we get older.

The study appeared in the journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience.

Related seminar: Neuro & Musculoskeletal Imaging

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