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meroberts's picture

Signals and phantom limb

Neuronal signals make all behavior possible. These signals are the links between the brain and behavior. These signals are also diverse and versatile. In class we have discussed the possibility that the signals are all the same and the reason there is such a variation in behaviors, or outputs, is due to the diversity of areas in which the signal occurs. For example, when someone touches their hand to a hot surface, a signal alerts their brain that its hand is in trouble. But before that signal can be interpreted and responded to by the brain, another (similar) signal inspires the reflexive behavior of the hand in response to the heat. The signal was the same in both cases, but they engendered different responses because of the location of the electrochemical impulse.

This could be related to people experiencing phantom limb syndrome. In phantom limb syndrome, people feel pain in the limb that has been lost. This is because the area of the motor cortex that is responsible for the movement of the missing limb has been taken over to control another region of the body. Thus, the people still experience sensation, usually pain, in the missing limb because those same neurons are firing. The signal is the same, but the region of the body being "controlled" is different. This produces feelings of pain in the missing limb instead of movement in the limb that is still attached. This explains how the same signal can be responsible for the multitude of functions that humans have to accomplish every day to survive.


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