Old Case Yields New Information
The skull of a 25 year-old railway worker who survived a horrific head injury in 1848 is currently enlightening scientists on matters of white matter and behavior.
Phineas Gage was thrust into infamy when a three and a half foot spike entered his brain as the result of an accident while laying railway tracks.
Accoring to Wikipedia:
Long called “the American Crowbar Case” – once termed “the case which more than all others is calculated to excite our wonder, impair the value of prognosis, and even to subvert our physiological doctrines” – Phineas Gage influenced 19th-century discussion about the brain, particularly debate on cerebral localization, and was perhaps the first case suggesting that damage to specific regions of the brain might affect personality and behavior.
While he lived to tell about it, his personality was forever changed.
New Scans have revealed that 11 percent of the white matter in Gage’s brain was damaged, which likely explains why he became irresponsible and profane before dying 11 years after the accident.
Since Gage’s scans are similar to those of people with various degenerative brain diseases, scientist hope to better understand the connections white matter makes between the frontal lobe and other parts of the brain.
John Van Horn, UCLA Assistant Professor Of Neurology explained the finding to Reuters:
“The white matter connects and conveys the signals between the different brain areas. And while he may have cortical damage, and that’s very important for cognition and executive functions, those things that help us maintain working memory through cognitive processes, those brain areas also connect through a very diffuse set of pathways that connect those frontal lobes and those areas that were damaged to the rest of the brain, indicating that the potential damage was much more widespread than people had previously believed.”
Van Horn believes there are similarities between Gage’s radical change of behaviour and the behaviour of people affllicted by degenerative neurological diseases.
“So understanding the pattern and connectivity of the brain can help us understand and develop cures for things like Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, as well as other degenerative disorders of the brain,” said Horn
The skull and the rod can be viewed at Harvard Medical School.