Individual scans of two healthy controls and two individuals with a left-hemisphere (LH) perinatal stroke. The orange/yellow activation shows the normal language areas of the left hemisphere in healthy individuals, as compared with the reorganized language areas in individuals with a left-hemisphere perinatal stroke. Credit: Elissa Newport
Feb. 17, 2018 (medicalXpress>) -- It's not rare that a baby experiences a stroke around the time it is born. Birth is hard on the brain, as is the change in blood circulation from the mother to the neonate. At least 1 in 4,000 babies are affected shortly before, during, or after birth.
But a stroke in a baby -- even a big one -- does not have the same lasting impact as a stroke in an adult. A study led by Georgetown University Medical Center investigators found that a decade or two after a "perinatal" stroke damaged the left "language" side of the brain, affected teenagers and young adults used the right sides of their brain for language.
The findings, reported Feb. 17 in a symposium at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Austin, Tex., demonstrates how "plastic" brain function is in infants, says cognitive neuroscientist Elissa L. Newport, PhD, professor of neurology at Georgetown University School of Medicine, and director of the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery at Georgetown University and MedStar National Rehabilitation Network.
Her study found that the 12 individuals studied, aged 12 to 25, who had a left-brain perinatal stroke all used the right side of their brains for language. "Their language is good -- normal," she says.
The only telltale signs of prior damage to their brain are that some study individuals limp a bit and many have learned to make their left hands dominant because the stroke left right hand function impaired. They also have some executive function impairments -- slightly slower neural processing, for example -- that are common in individuals with brain injuries. But basic cognitive functions, like language comprehension and production, are excellent, Newport says.