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Split Brain WHAT IS IT?

Grounbreaking Experiment
In the early 1950s the corpus callosum as has been mentioned earlier is the largest cerebral commissure- it constituted a paradox of major proportions. In size, it is with estimated 200 million axons, and its central position, right between two hemispheres, implied that it performed an extremely important function. Yet research in the 1930s and 1940 seem to suggest that it did nothing at all. The corpus callosum had been cut in monkeys and in many other species, but the animals seemed no different after the surgery. Interestingly and in support to this notion, human patients who were born without a corpus callosum seemed perfectly normal. In the early 1950s Roger Sperry and his colleagues were challenged by this paradox and in the 1953, Myers and Sperry have conducted experiment with cats, which allowed them to make two astonishing theoretical points: It showed that one function of the corpus callosum is to transfer learned information from one hemisphere to another. It also showed that when the corpus callosum is cut, each hemisphere can function independently. The cats with the split brain appeared to have two brains. These conclusions about fundamental duality of the brain and the information transfer function of the corpus callosum have been confirmed in variety of experiments with a variety of species.

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Commissurotomy in Human Epileptics

In the first half of 20th century the corpus callosum was still a mystery. It was known though that epileptic discharges often spread from one hemisphere to the other through corpus callosum. Also, cutting corpus callosum had proven in numerous studies to have no obvious effect on performance outside the contrived conditions. These two facts led Vogel and Bogen to initiate a program of commissurotomy for the treatment of severe cases of epilepsy. The reason behind cerebral commissurotomy (which is cutting corpus callosum and other forebrain sommissures) was that severity of epileptic convulsions might be reduced due to discharges limited to the hemisphere of their origin. The benefits of commissurotomy turned out to be even greater than expected: Despite the fact that commissurotomy is performed in only the most severe cases of epilepsy, many commissurotomized patients do not experience another major convulsion. It was found that frequency as well as the extent of seizure activity could be dramatically reduced by the operation(Beumont).

Sperry and Gazzanigas Findings

The split-brain patients neuropsychological status was investigated by Sperry and Gazzaniga, who developed the combination of tests based on the same methodological strategy used in their studies of laboratory animals. The results of the tests on split brain patients have confirmed the findings in split-brain of animals in one major respect but not in another:

1. Like split-brain animals, human split-brain patients seem to have two independent brains, each with its own stream of consciousness, abilities, memories and emotions. 2. But unlike split-brain animals, patients with split-brain are far from equal in their ability to perform certain tasks. Most notably, the left hemisphere of split brain patients is capable of speech, whereas the right hemisphere is not. 3. Although in everyday life, the behavior of split-brain patients is reasonably normal, in the laboratory some major discrepancies between two hemispheres can be created. Sperry and Gazzaniga showed that patients with split-brain did suffer from certain subtle deficits that were not necessarily noticed in their every day activity.

Experimental Findings
Two Brains Evidence that the hemispheres of split brain patients function independently and deficits of integration between two sides of the body has been demonstrated in simple experiment: if the visual information is shown in the right visual field and projects to the left hemisphere which possesses speech, then stimulus can be verbally identified and can be responded to by the right hand. It can not , however, be selected by the left hand (controled by the right hemisphere). Conversely, a stimulus presented in the left visual field will go to the right hemisphere and can be indicated with the left hand but not by the right hand or by speech. The information is restricted to the hemisphere of reception and can be linked only to response processes that are controlled by that hemisphere (Beumont).

Issues and challenges

Having discussed the effects of the cerebral commissutoromy, it is important to highlight several points: 1. Split-brain patients are treated as a single group, while operations performed in the three series do differ significantly ( for example: not all the operations involve cutting anterior commissure, which is capable of transferring significant amount of information). This may partly account for the failure to find some deficits in the first series. These existing differences should be taken in to account when studying the effects of the commissutoromy. 2. The word of caution about the patients: The number of patients operated upon is relatively small and the number reported in the literature is a minority of these. Total number of patients available about 30; literature (very extensive) concerns no more than about half a dozen of these (Beaumont). 3. The patients differ greatly in their performance on the experimental tasks set for them and therefore one have to be cautious of regarding them as a homogeneous group and to draw ones conclusion from the mean performance of the group(Beaumont, p. 201).

Issues and challenges

Beaumont points out that it is extremely tempting to treat the data as if split brain patients presented us with neat controlled experimental results; it is not so. These are surgical lesions in abnormal brains of the patients that have had long and complex neurological histories reflected in their pre- and postoperative neurological status. Many patients have lesions in other parts of the brain, while others have had lesions from birth; some have had operation at a relatively early age, when a degree of plasticity in the brain still remains. All these factors make interpretation of the data from split brain patients extremely difficult. The small number of patients, their different pre and postoperative histories and response to the operation, the precise nature of the surgery their have received all of these are the factors that point to caution in treating a patients as a single group and treating the findings as if they came from experimental lesions in previously normal brain (Beaumont).

Future research perspectives

The data from the patients are increasingly reported as a set of single case studies, which, according Beaumont, seems more reasonable. Although this practice has not been universally adopted, it might be noteworthy objective for future research. It is known that many patients develop subtle cross cueing strategies/ways, using external routs for the lateral transfer of information as has been noted earlier. For example: sound cues may be passed from objects in the left hand to the left hemisphere via the right ear. Also emotional signals and the eye movements may transfer by subcortical routs. To know more about the degree to which cerebral hemispheres can not be considered in isolation from the subcortical centres to which they remain connected (which are not divided) is the theme that demands further attention. It also provides useful indications for future research with regard to how carefully controlled the experiments must be and how vigilant the experimenter must be, if it is possible, to rule out this kind of external transfers (Beaumont, p. 209).

Future research perspectives

New Developments in Split Brain Surgery Until recently it has been believed that the entire corpus callosum must be severed to provide proper relief from the severe epilepsy the surgery was trying to negate. Dr. Gordon, a neurobiologist at the California Institute of Technology says the corpus callosum might be able to be severed enough to provide relief, without losing all neural integration. He conclude, the cerebral hemispheres totally integrate if but a small fraction of the corpus callosum remains intact. Therefore he suggests that only three-fourths of the front corpus callosum should be severed, but the back of the corpus callosum -- the splenium is leaved intact. It is known that splenium of the corpus callosum is to be the dominant path of the visual aspects of hemispheric integration. Whereas the genus has been found to control motor aspects. For this new procedure, the motor aspects much more pertinent to epilepsy seizures, are severed, while the splenium, the center of visual cross over, remain intact . This would make the procedure required for severe epilepsy much safer and more practical. The patient would be relieved of the extreme seizures, while retaining interhemispheric visual pathways and some other communication between hemispheres.

Beaumont, J. (2008). Press. Introduction to neuropsychology. The Guilford

Pinel, J. (2007). Biopsychology. 6th Ed. USA.: Pearson & AB.

http://www.macalester.edu/psychology/whathap/ubnrp/split_brain/Curre nt.html