Why your brainstem is a «magic» catalyst for learning and plasticity

Sensory processing is important for human behaviour and learning

New research suggests a larger than generally acknowledged connection between the function of the nuclear network area in the brainstem (Thalamus, see picture below), and neural plasticity, hence human learning adaptability, in adult life too…

Inside your brainstem, a nucleus of grey matter called the Thalamus, works as a «relay station» for the integration and onwards transmission of motor and sensory stimuli. This has been known for a long time, and it is generally acknowledged, that this function is vital to the initiation of sensory-motor response, occuring in the cortical parts of the brain.

Occupational therapists (OTs) have for decades worked therapeutically towards enhancement of sensory integration, especially in children displaying sensory integration dysfunction. Increasingly with other target groups in the health services, for instance psychiatry and gerontology.

Practice has been largely based on theory and clinical observations rather than biomarker confirmation… This OT practice has been carried out primarily under the assumption, but poorly documented fact, that healthy function in nuclear brainstem areas (essentially Thalamus and Formatio Reticularis) are important for human ability to respond with adequate behaviour to all kinds of sensory stimuli in body and environment.

New, useful research

Under the supervision of professor Christiaan Levelt from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, researchers have recently carried out scientific experiments that demonstrate an interesting thing:

Thalamus is way more important for overall brain plasticity than previously acknowledged…

This is interesting because it warrants a more indepth exploration of sensory integration therapy as intervention method in all dimensions of neurorehabilitation and -habilitation.

Thalamus regulates adaptability of the adult brain

Source: https://elifesciences.org/reviewed-preprints/88124v2