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Scientists study brain's 'body map'

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
London (UPI) Jul 19, 2010
British scientists say they've discovered which part of the brain tells people where their hands, arms and legs are, even in the dark when they cannot see them.

The research shows that simple actions, like swatting a mosquito that has landed on an arm, requires a complex coordination of different sensory inputs for the brain to construct a constantly updated 'map' of the body in space, reported Friday.

University College London scientists have identified a region of the brain called the parietal cortex that creates this map from touch information from the skin combined with "proprioceptive" or "self-aware" information about the position of a hand relative to the body.

"Our brain constantly keeps track of the movements of the limbs, so that we always know the posture of our body, even with our eyes closed," UCL neuroscientist Patrick Haggard said.

"Our results show, for the first time, how the brain updates this 'body space.' Our findings may be particularly relevant to children with developmental coordination disorder," he said.

"One underlying problem is their poor sense of where their limbs are in space. Our result identifies the specific part of the parietal cortex needed to construct this map of body space."

earlier related report
Brain cells vital to breathing identified
London (UPI) Jul 19, 2010 - Scientists say cells previously believed to act just as a "glue" between brain neurons have, in fact, a central role in the regulation of breathing in humans.

Astrocytes, named after their characteristic star shape, monitor levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and activate brain respiratory networks to increase a person's breathing to match metabolism and activity, reported Friday.

The research could lead to understanding causes of devastating conditions associated with respiratory failure such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, ScienceDaily said.

Astrocytes are a type of brain cell called glial cells, from the Greek for "glue," the most numerous cell type in the human brain.

Once thought to merely serve as structural and nutritional support for the brain's neurons, glial cells like astrocytes play a much more important role, scientists say.

"This research identifies brain astrocytes as previously unrecognized crucial elements of the brain circuits controlling fundamental bodily functions vital for life, such as breathing, and indicates that they are indeed the real stars of the brain," said Dr Alexander Gourine, a researcher at University College London.

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