Ddid you know that your brain contains a small cartoonish version of your body? It may sound strange, but it’s true!
It’s called the homunculus, and it’s responsible for mapping your body.
What’s interesting is that different parts of your body take up different amounts of space in the homunculus, depending on how sensitive they are. For example, your face and hands take up a disproportionate amount of space compared to your back or stomach.
You can find the homunculus in the Somatosensory cortexpart of the brain responsible for processing and interpreting sensory information from the body.
How was this miniature body map discovered?
Years of research and experiments on animals and humans culminated in 1937 when Wilder Penfield and Edwin Boldrey published their findings after operating on awake patients under local anesthesia.
By stimulating different parts of the cortex of 126 patients, they were able to induce movements and sensations in specific parts of the body and recorded verbal reports from the patients about what they were experiencing.
This allowed the researchers to create our deformed human friend.
This map was a significant contribution to the field of neurology and neuroscience. It has helped researchers understand the relationship between brain function and movement, and study the effects of brain damage on movement and sensation in corresponding body parts.
The homunculus has also been used to explain certain neurological disorders, such as Phantom Limb Pain (PLP)which occurs when a person experiences pain or other sensations in a limb that has been amputated.
In fact, even after a limb is amputated, the neural pathway that carries sensory information from the limb to the brain remains. So, although the physical limb is no longer there to send signals to the brain, the cerebral representation of the limb, the homunculus, still exists and can cause pain in patients.
By understanding the role of the homunculus in these conditions, researchers can gain important insights into how the human brain works. As our understanding of the brain continues to evolve, the homunculus will likely remain an important tool in the study of neuroscience for years to come.
So the next time you look in the mirror, remember there’s a little cartoon version of you alive in your brain!
This article, along with others I will post this week, was created for Brain Awareness Week 2023. My goal for this week is to spark your curiosity, share valuable knowledge, inspire and raise awareness factors that can impact our brain health.
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Catani, M. (2017). A small man of some importance. Brain, 140(11), 3055–3061. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awx270