New Developments in Split Brain Surgery


Until recently it has been believed that the entire corpus callosum must be severed to provide proper relief from the severe epilepsy the surgery was trying to negate. However this is not necessarily the case, the corpus callosum might be able to be severed enough to provide relief, without losing all neural integration.

Dr. H. G. Gordon, a neurobiologist at the California Institute of Technology says the connections at the back of the brain alone are enough to integrate both human hemispheres. Speaking for a California research team, he reported a new form of surgery, devised by P. J. Vogel of Los Angeles, which stops seizures completely, or at least renders them treatable with drugs. At the same time, he added "Psychological tests of Vogel's patients yield results identical to those of normal subjects. We conclude, the cerebral hemispheres totally integrate if but a small fraction of the corpus callosum remains intact. "

image In Vogel's new operation (called anterior cerebral commissurotomy) the surgeon opens the skull, lays back the brain's coverings and, with a tool called a cerebral retractor, exposes the corpus callosum between the two hemispheres

Then he snips through the front three-fourths of the corpus callosum and, while at it, also severs a pipe-cleaner-sized cross connection known as the anterior commissure. But the back of the corpus callosum -- the splenium -- he leaves intact.

The splenium of the corpus callosum (as was discussed in the corpus callosum section) has been found to be the dominant path of the visual aspects of hemispheric integration. Whereas the genus has been found to control motor aspects. For this new procedure, the motor aspects much more pertinent to epilepsy seizures, are severed, while the splenium, the center of visual cross over, remain intact
. This would make the procedure required for severe epilepsy much safer and more practical. The patient would be relieved of the extreme seizures, while retaining interhemisphereic visual pathways and some other communication between hemispheres.

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This procedure is now widely used in place of the complete corpus commissurotomy, and experiments are being done with exactly how much of the brain needs commissured. The procedure doesn't perfectly integrate the two hemispheres, it has been found that callosal transfer times are significantly slower after the operation has occurred. This is thought to be because visual transfer time across the corpus is slower then the motor transfer time. Also bimanual coordination is thought to be somewhat inhibited by this procedure. Never the less, there is definite progress over the complete loss of communication which was thought to happen in the original split brain subjects.

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