Brain Functions are Different in Down Syndrome

Date    February 24, 2010

See article Brain research makes breakthrough published in the Burnaby NOW.

Burnaby, BC –   State-of-the-art brain imaging research at the Down Syndrome Research Foundation lab shows that the brain of a person with Down syndrome functions differently than a typical brain.

DSRF’s most recent findings show that adults with Down syndrome have little activity in a key part of the brain's mirror neuron system when observing actions. Mirror neurons, first discovered in the 1990s by a group led by G Rizzolatti have been hailed as the most important finding of the last decade in neuroscience.

According to this new study, published this month in the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the brain areas that allow people to perceive and understand the actions of others, do not behave the same way in adults with Down syndrome.  "Our findings suggest that a dysfunctional mirror neuron system may underlie the perceptual-motor deficits observed in Down syndrome. This system is also thought to play a critical role in how individuals with Down syndrome understand the emotions of others and acquire language. This may ultimately lead to new approaches in teaching and therapy for this developmentally delayed population," said Dr. Virji-Babul, lead author of the paper and Research Director at DSRF.

The researchers used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure brain activity in adults with Down syndrome.  The study shows that unlike typically developing adults, adults with Down syndrome have very little activity in the movement related areas of the brain, a key part of the mirror neuron system.  Importantly, the brain activity was much more scattered and less organized in the group with Down syndrome.

The DSRF research team is now developing a new study to determine how mirror neurons are involved in the ability of individuals with Down syndrome to respond to emotional expressions.

About the Down Syndrome Research Foundation:
The non-profit Down Syndrome Research Foundation was established in 1995 with a mission to ensure a brighter future for individuals with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.  At the DSRF we initiate and participate in research that provides insight into the unique learning style of these individuals.  The data collected is analyzed and pilot interventions and educational programs are developed and offered. These programs test our understanding of the brain and are evaluated to see the impact on our students.

About Magnetoencephalography Technology:
The Magnetoencephalography system (MEG) provides precise information about the brain by measuring the magnetic activity that occurs when neurons fire. This information provides precise information about how and where the brain carries out functions and tasks. The Down Syndrome Research Foundation currently houses the only MEG unit in western Canada.

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