The role of input loss in driving brain plasticity
How does sensory input loss influence brain organisation?
Once a major input is lost to the brain, the deprived area is thought to become “freed-up”. Our own research in amputees, however, shows that this is not the case. We are interested in understanding how malleable brain organisation is following input loss, using both experimental models (pharmacological nerve block) and studies in amputees. We are particularly interested in how input loss can impact perception in remaining body-parts, such as the intact hand in amputees.
Example papers: Kikkert et al., eLife 2016; Makin & Bensmaia, TICS, 2017
Can input loss facilitate input-driven plasticity?
We are interested in understanding the potential link between sensory deprivation and adaptive behaviour. For example, we wish to determine whether amputees can develop “super powers” due to the neural processes triggered by deprivation, in combination with strong behavioural pressure to pick up new skills to cope with their disability. We also use pharmacological interventions to determine whether we can see functional benefits of deprivation (e.g. enhancements of sensory learning) after short term deprivation with anaesthetics.
Example paper: Makin et al., 2013, eLife
Why can blind individuals feel touch better?
Individuals who were born blind are forced to rely on other senses (e.g. touch) to successfully interact with their environment. Seemingly unsurprisingly, these individuals often show superior performance on tests of tactile acuity. We wish to determine whether this heightened tactile abilities occur due to recruitment of their (deprived) visual cortex to process tactile information, and whether their somatosensory hand representation is changed.
Example paper: Coming soon!