What happens to the brain after electrical injury?

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Even when the head is not in direct contact with an electrical power source, head injuries can occur by means of an electrical surge to the peripheral nervous system (from contact to an extremity such as arm or leg). Electrical injury survivors often show mental deficits and slowed motor skills as a result of the secondary head injury.

Although the effect of electrical injury on cognitive dysfunction has been well established by research, studies that attempt to pinpoint the specific changes in the brain have been few. In a recent study by medical researchers in Chicago, electrical injury survivors (who did not experience direct electrical contact to the head) performed cognitive and sensorimotor tasks while being assessed for brain activation using functional MRI (fMRI).

When the electrical injury survivors performed these tasks, the fMRI images of their brain showed abnormal activation as compared to healthy participants. The study therefore provided the first evidence of functional and physical changes in the brain corresponding to cognitive and sensorimotor deficits after electrical injury.

Ramati A, Pliskin NH, Keedy S, et al. Alteration in functional brain systems after electrical injury. Journal of Neurotrauma. (October 2009).