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Simone Shane's picture

Mirror Neurons and Phantom Limbs

Earlier in the forum a lot of people were discussing phantom limbs. There was actually a very recent article in the BBC regarding treatment for phantom limb pain ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7305207.stm ), which basically stated that, in conjuncture with the mirror box treatments, watching someone else rub their hands together can also help relieve the phantom pains. They seem to think that this might be due to mirror neurons firing when the patient watches another's actions. An excerpt from the article explains mirror neurons:

 

"Mirror neurons in the brain fire up when a person performs an intentional action, such as waving, and also when they observe someone else performing the same action.

They are thought to help predict the intentions of others by simulating the action in the mind.

Similar cells exist for touch, and become active both when a person is being touched and when they watch someone else being touched.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, say the reason people do not constantly feel what they observe happening to others is that a person's sensory cells do not give the right signals, so they know it is not happening to them."

These researchers argue that, since, the amputated arm is not giving these signals to the brain that the rubbing is not actually being felt, the brain does not receive the feedback that their arm is not actually being rubbed.

Reading this article made me think beyond phantom limbs to mirror neurons. I recall talking about mirror cells when learning about language acquisition in young children. In fact, it is thought that mirror neurons are whant enable us to learn how to move our mouth in ways to make specific sounds. Also, when you make faces at a young infant, they will mimmic your expression, also presumably due to mirror neurons. Yet, when children grow older, they no longer automatically mimmic expressions. This lead me to wonder whether we are just controlling ourselves from mimicking others as adults through feedback or whether the feedback system between the child's brain and their muscles is not yet strong enough.

 

In any case, it seems we have another little sub-symphony going on here between mirror neurons and sensory neurons to determine behavior.

I really hope we come back to the topic of mirror neurons as I find them so interesting!

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