23 February 2009

Man with tiny brain leads normal life

(The man's head CT scans are on the left; normal on the right for comparison)
French doctors are puzzling over the case of 44-year-old civil servant who has led a quite normal life - but with an extraordinarily tiny brain . In a case history published in Saturday's Lancet, doctors led by Lionel Feuillet of the Hopital de la Timone in Marseille say the father-of-two was admitted to hospital after suffering mild weakness in his left leg.

Scans by computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed that the man's cerebral cavities, called ventricles, had massively expanded. "The brain itself, meaning the grey matter and white matter, was completely crushed against the sides of the skull," Feuillet told AFP.

"The images were most unusual... the brain was virtually absent," he said.

The patient's medical history showed that at the age of six months, he suffered hydrocephalus, also called water on the brain, and needed an operation to drain this dangerous buildup of spinal fluid.

Neuropsychological testing revealed the man had an IQ of 75, with a verbal IQ of 84 and performance IQ of 70... Despite this, "the man has been able to lead a life that can be considered normal," said Feuillet. "Even if he has a slight intellectual handicap, this has not hampered his development or building social networks."
I know where people are going to go with this. Some will joke about the fact that the man was French. Others - especially those of you with politically oriented blogs - will harvest this for commentary on Democrats/Republicans.

What intrigues me is something else. This man leads a reasonably normal life with this tiny remnant of his cerebral cortex. How much more should a normal brain be capable of doing? What capabilities do all of us have that we haven't explored or developed? Some people become savants; are they just able to use all of their cortex while ours is wasted on television and the internet? Food for thought...

And - for a report about people who have even less brain tissue than the man shown here, see the post below this one...


  1. I don't get the Democrat/Republican connection, and I write a politically oriented blog. Am I being a dunderhead again?

  2. I think it's more the fact the man is employed as a 'civil servant', Brian

  3. This is truely amazing. And fascinating. Not only it makes me wonder how such a tiny brain has be able to reshape its connections to be able to function properly, but I am also amazed by the fact that this means we only use a minimal fraction of our brain. I wish I knew more about this case.


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