What is Brain Rewiring and How Can It Help People Who Are Congenially Deaf?

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Brain Rewiring

Did you know that your brain is flexible? There is no brain hardwiring at birth. Your daily experiences are continually changing the wiring of your brain to process new situations and experiences. Learning and maturing add new skills to your life and in the process, alter the wiring of your mind.  A research team is using this knowledge and testing a deafness-causing gene mutation. They are finding that the brains of people who are deaf at birth may rewire themselves to provide positive benefits for those who cannot hear.

How Does Deafness Affect The Brain?

Deafness not only affects our ability to hear, but it can also lead to changes in the brain. Multiple studies demonstrate how much the brain can alter to compensate for lost senses. Rewiring of the brain to handle new functions and situations is known as neuroplasticity. In those people who are deaf, rewiring of the brain occurs in several different ways, including higher brain functions.

Brain Re-Wiring 101

As previously mentioned, the term for re-wiring the brain is neuroplasticity. Contrary to popular belief, there is no hardwiring of the brain at birth. As we develop and grow, our brains continuously remodel themselves according to our new experiences. Brains are malleable and are continually reshaping due to our daily experiences. You are the architect of your brain. Anytime you alter your beliefs, learn something new, or become aware of habitual reactions to unpleasant emotions, you are changing the neurochemistry and structure of your brain. Researchers now believe that the brains of people born deaf can rewire themselves, resulting in positive benefits for the people who have difficulty hearing.

A Deafness-Causing Mutation

A mutation of the otoferlin protein causes deafness and alters the growth and wiring of the neurons critical to the nervous system. There is new research suggesting this knowledge may advance education and treatment for the deaf. The research team utilized zebrafish to explore the genetic mechanisms responsible for congenital hearing loss. The otoferlin protein, which encodes sounds in the sensory hair cells, was of particular interest to the researchers.

The researchers eliminated the otoferlin gene in the zebrafish, causing an alteration in neuronal genes involved in the growth and wiring of neurons. In the brains of humans, this suggests that the brains of people born deaf can rewire themselves in a manner that affects the way these people learn. The researchers believe this is a step towards better treatment for the deaf whose brain wiring is slightly different.

A Promising Outlook

Knowledge of brain rewiring in deaf people and the possible benefits it may incur is exciting and welcome news. The research team believes that future gene therapies should target young patients whose brains have yet to experience a complete rewiring. They also feel like we should move beyond looking at just hair cells and examine the brain itself for answers regarding how the brain processes information differently both in people who have normal hearing and those who are deaf.

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