Queen's Researcher Discovers Spinal Cord's Ability to Process Information
March 23, 2011 4:43 PM
A person's level of attention affects information processing in the spinal cord
It is well understood that
the brain holds many functions
, including the processing of information in all vertebrates and most invertebrates. But now, a researcher from the
Queen's MRI Facility
has found that the spinal cord is capable of processing information as well, and he is working to map this function in order to help bridge spinal cord injuries.
Dr. Patrick Stroman, study leader and director of the Queen's MRI Facility, has spent time mapping the function of the spinal cord, including its information processing capabilities. More specifically, he has studied the regions above and below spinal cord injuries in an effort to better understand both the injury and the appropriate treatment. In doing so, Stroman has
that could aid in bridging injuries on a spinal cord.
The technique consists of an MRI system taking multiple images of the spinal cord while temperature sensations are performed on the skin. These temperature sensations are varied, and cause certain areas of the spinal cord to react. The MRI then captures these reactions. This could be used to identify the injury that needs to be bridged.
While performing this technique, Stroman also realized that a persons level of attention affects the spinal cord's information processing. The MRI was able to capture spinal cord activity in those who were alert and those who were distracted by certain tasks.
"The effect of attention is one of the reasons that when you're playing sports and you get hurt, you often don't become aware of the injury until after the game when your attention and focus changes," said Stroman. "We already knew that a person's level of attention affects information processing in the brain, but this finding has made us aware that level of attention has to be properly controlled in research that aims to accurately map spinal cord function."
This research could improve treatment and technology for
spinal cord injuries
, and could also be applied to conditions such as fibromyalgia or multiple sclerosis.
"Basic physiology books describe the spinal cord as a relay system, but it's part of the central nervous system and processes information just like parts of the brain do," added Stroman.
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