Can You Live Without A Part Of The Brain?


The human brain is one of the most fascinating organs. It has an extremely complex job, since it is responsible for carrying out all cognitive and executive functions, and for orchestrating all other bodily functions.

Furthermore, it is a somewhat difficult organ to study. It is made up of intricate neural networks, which have been attempted to organize into brain regions in order to give it order. This leads us to think that each brain area performs a specific function or that each function is located in a single region, but this is not 100% true..

And what about people who receive significant brain damage, or those who have birth defects? Can they continue living after it? In this article I explain to you whether you can live without a part of the brain or not.

Can you live without a part of the brain?

To give you a quick answer, I answer the question of whether you can live without a part of the brain: yes, you can. The best way to illustrate this possibility is to tell you about existing cases in which there have been people who have managed to live without parts of the brain.

1. Phineas Gage

The most famous example is Phineas Gage. This man was a laborer who had a work accident in 1848, in which an explosion occurred right in front of him, causing a metal bar to pass through his head and pierce much of the frontal lobe of his brain.. However, she managed to regain consciousness just a few minutes later.

He was able to continue living and recover within a few months, retaining most of his mental and physical abilities. However, there were changes in his life: the hole in the frontal area changed his personality, becoming an irascible and impatient person, and years later he began to suffer epileptic seizures.

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2. The woman without a cerebellum

In 2014, closer in time, there was a 24-year-old woman who went for medical tests on the east coast of China because she had dizziness and balance problems. She had a CT scan and she was very surprised by the results: she had no cerebellum. This brain area is responsible for all types of movements and motor learning.

The absence of that large part of the brain explained why the girl was somewhat clumsy and why it had taken her longer than usual as a child to learn to walk and talk, but it was not even understood how she could do it today.. And she is not the only person in history without a cerebellum, she is already the ninth.

3. Children with hemispherectomy

Epilepsy in childhood is more common than we think, and it is very harmful because it does not allow the natural development of the brain of these children. When pharmacological treatment has been tried, and when a specific focus of the attacks cannot be located and the damaged area is extensive, hemispherectomy is sometimes used: the removal of a complete or partial hemisphere of the brain.

Generally, these operations are attempted when children are still very young. However, these children manage to develop well later, being able to speak and move fluently. I have already given you real examples of people who can live without a part of the brain, but how is this possible? Well, Although the brain is complex to understand, and even more so this phenomenon, it is thought to occur thanks to neuronal plasticity and the functional distribution of multiple brain systems..


Neuronal plasticity

Neuronal plasticity or neuroplasticity is defined as the ability of the nervous system, especially the brain, to change its structure and functions, depending on the information we receive from the environment or from ourselves. In this way, they manage to adapt to situations and develop learning.

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This capacity is present at its maximum splendor when we are small, which is why we are capable of learning so many things and so quickly from the moment we are born. As we grow, neuronal plasticity is gradually lost, and it can even be lost completely if we develop dementia..

And why am I telling you this? Because thanks to neuronal plasticity, people without a part of the brain can live. I’ll explain it to you better now, while I tell you that there are two types of neuronal plasticity:

1. Structural plasticity

Structural plasticity occurs when the brain modifies its structure as a result of having acquired new learning. These changes are produced by a redistribution of neurons, based on two possible structural modifications:

Although positive plasticity may seem a priori more important, due to its obvious function that gives us the opportunity to learn, negative plasticity is also important, since the brain has a limited capacity for storing information and memory, as if it were a mobile phone. or a computer. Do you delete photos and applications that you don’t use to add new ones? Well, the brain does exactly the same with neural networks.

2. Functional plasticity

Changes are not only made to develop learning and be able to store information, but also to transfer bodily functions from one region of the brain to another nearby. This occurs when:

The first case does not differ much from positive structural plasticity. In the second and third circumstances, compensatory functional plasticity takes place, which explains how one can live without a part of the brain.

3. Compensatory functional plasticity

Having been born without the brain area or having undergone the operation in early childhood, the brain may have the capacity to develop physically and functionally thanks to the effectiveness of neuronal plasticity at those ages, so that the absence of this is not noticeable. region.

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On the other hand, if severe brain damage has been suffered, neuronal plasticity is also key to recovering functions and ensuring that the person who has received the damage does not lose their quality of life. Sometimes there is a spontaneous recovery, but if after 6 months after the accident, this has not happened, it will not happen on its own..

However, recovery of functions can be achieved, thanks to neuropsychological therapy. Through this therapy, we seek to stimulate brain areas so that new neuronal connections are created that allow these functions to be recovered in other nearby brain areas, or if the damage is not very serious, in the original brain area.


Multiple systems

As we mentioned at the beginning, the brain has been scientifically organized into brain regions, such as:

Each region is usually attributed a main function, and vice versa. For example, the limbic area is responsible for emotions and primary impulses. However, this is a simplistic view of how to understand the brain..

The reality is that each region fulfills more than one function. Taking the same example, the limbic area also includes, among others, the hypothalamus, which is responsible for regulating temperature, hunger, thirst, circadian rhythms… Not only the general brain areas have various functions, but also each small part fulfills a few in turn.

Likewise, each function is distributed in different areas of the brain, so that it does not depend on just one. For example, language is found in Wernicke’s area, Broca’s area, supramarginal and angular gyri… And in even more places. In this way, if one area is damaged, language is not completely lost, and the surrounding areas can recover part of the lost function thanks to neuroplasticity..