Prof. Giacomo Rizzolati: Neuron therapy recovers stroke and autistic patients

Prof. Giacomo Rizzolati: Neuron therapy recovers stroke and autistic patients
Prof. Giacomo Rizzolati: Neuron therapy recovers stroke and autistic patients

In 1992, the world-renowned neurobiologist Prof. Giacomo Rizzolati made a revolutionary discovery, which was a true revolution in psychology and other sciences about the structure of the brain. He discovered mirror neurons - unique brain cells that activate when we react to the actions of other people. These cells, like a mirror, automatically "reflect" someone else's behavior in our head and allow us to feel what is happening as if we ourselves have performed this action. To date, Prof. Rizzolatti heads the Institute of Neurology at the University of Parma and is an Honorary Doctor of St. Petersburg State University. In the interview we offer you, he explains how to improve mutual understanding between people, as well as new approaches in the treatment of stroke and autism.

“…In France, they confirmed with an experiment that, in addition to mirror neurons of the "action", i.e. motor, there are also emotional mirror neurons - Prof. Rizzolati says at the beginning of the interview. - It is they who help us subconsciously, without any mental analysis, but seeing only facial expressions and gestures, to feel the emotion of the other person. This happens because thanks to the "reflection" in the brain, we ourselves begin to experience these same sensations."

Prof. Rizzolati, but people are different - there are very responsive, sensitive, but there are also hard and indifferent ones who don't seem to understand anyone. Perhaps nature surrounded them with emotional mirror neurons?

- Hardly. The brain is not that simple. In addition to mirror neurons, our consciousness and will also work unconditionally - with their help, those feelings and emotions that appear due to the action of mirror neurons can be partially extinguished. And the social norms accepted in society play an even bigger role. If this same society supports the ideology of selfishness and individualism, i.e. a person is concerned primarily with himself, with his own he alth and material we alth, then you will have to be selfish, because it is believed that this is what leads to success. In such a case, the role of your mirror neuron system can be reduced by willpower, by education, by habitual behavior. Motivation is very important. In many religions there is a principle: love others as you love yourself. Do not think that this principle came from God - the truth is that it is a natural rule that reflects the biological structure of man and is based on the work of mirror neurons. If you don't love people, it will be very difficult for you to live in society. By the way, in Western societies, especially in recent centuries, there was a period of strictly individualistic approach. However, now, for example, in Italy, France, Germany, they are returning to the understanding that social life is no less important than personal life.

It has been proven that there are more mirror neurons in women in the emotional system than in men - the professor continues. - This explains women's higher capacity for understanding and sympathy. Experiments were conducted in this regard, which proved that the female brain reacted more strongly than the male. This is the result of evolution: it is laid down by nature that the mother who spends more time with the children is emotionally open, open, empathetic and happy… And by the same mirror principle to

helps in the emotional development of the child

And again, experiments have proven that a woman is more inclined to forgive and take things more lightly in the end. Whereas the man takes them quite seriously and is much less accommodating.

Prof. Rizzolati, you discovered mirror neurons more than 20 years ago - no doubt attempts have been made to use your discovery in medicine - is that right?

- Yes, we are working on the practical application of the discovery, including and in medicine. It is known that motor mirror neurons compel us to mentally reproduce the same action that we see performed by another person, including even on the TV screen or computer. For example, the following has been observed: when people watch a fight between boxers, their muscles tense up and they may even clench their fists. This is a typical neuroeffect and the new technology for recovery after stroke, in Alzheimer's disease and other diseases in which a person forgets movements is based on it. We are now doing such experiments in Italy and Germany. The essence is as follows: if the patient's neurons are not completely "ruined", but only their work is disturbed, the visual impulse is used - showing the necessary action under certain conditions, the nerve cells can be activated and forced to "reflect" the movements, then start working again as needed. This method is called "therapy of action and observation" and in our experiments it gives a significant improvement in the rehabilitation of patients after a stroke. But the most amazing result we get when we apply the therapy to restore people after serious traumas and accidents - when the person was in a cast, and then actually has to learn to walk again. Usually in such cases a long time

painful walking remains

the patient is limping etc. And it would take him a long time to learn, to train. Whereas if he is shown a specially created film with the corresponding movements, the necessary motor neurons are activated in his brain and he begins to walk normally literally in a few days. Even to us scientists, this seems like a miracle.

Professor, what happens if a person's mirror neurons are damaged? In what diseases does it occur?

- It is not so simple that these neurons are massively damaged. They are distributed throughout the cerebral cortex. If a person has a stroke, only some of the neurons are damaged. It is known, for example, that when the left side of the brain is damaged, the patient can sometimes understand the actions of other people. The most serious damage to mirror neurons is associated with genetic disorders, and this most often occurs in autism. Since the mechanism of "reflection" of the actions and emotions of others is broken in the brain of such patients, autistics cannot understand what other people are doing. They are unable to empathize because they do not experience similar emotions in the form of joy or worry. All this is not familiar to them, it can even scare them. That's why autistic people try to hide and avoid communication.

Now that you scientists have been able to clarify this cause of the disease, aren't you closer to discovering a cure?

- We believe that we can fully restore autistic children if we tackle this while they are very young. At the earliest stage, it is necessary to show a very strong sensitivity, even sentimentality with such children: the mother, the specialist are also obliged to talk a lot with the child, to touch him. In this way, they will be able to develop both motor and emotional habits. It is very important to play with the child, but not competitive games, but those where success occurs only in joint actions.

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