Keeping ballet dancers in a spin

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  • Published: Sep 27, 2013
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: MRI Spectroscopy / Chemometrics & Informatics / Atomic / Proteomics / Base Peak / Raman / Infrared Spectroscopy / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / X-ray Spectrometry / NMR Knowledge Base

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The brains of ballet dancers become adapted so that they can perform pirouettes without suffering from severe dizziness, as we mere mortals would. That is the conclusion of researchers in the UK who hope that the results can be used to develop treatments for patients who suffer from dizziness over long periods.

Barry Seemungal and co-researchers from Imperial College London, UCL and The Hammersmith Hospital used a combination of MRI scanning and cognitive tests to examine 29 female ballet dancers and 20 female rowers of similar age and fitness to the dancers. They were sat in a special chair in a dark room and spun rapidly, far faster than we can in our office chairs. After stopping, they were asked to rotate a wheel to indicate how fast they thought they were still spinning, slowing the rate as they became less dizzy.

These test were backed up by observing the eye reflexes that are triggered by input from the vestibular organs. These organs are chambers filled with fluid in the inner ear that detect head rotation through tiny hairs that sense the fluid moving.

Both the feeling of spinning and the eye reflexes were shorter in the dancers than the rowers, as the team reported in Cerebral Cortex. The difference was backed up by the MRI scans which revealed differences in the brains of the dancers and the rowers that were linked to sensory input from the vestibular organs and the perception of dizziness.

"It's not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance. Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input. Consequently, the signal going to the brain regions responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy," commented Seemungal. "If we can target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness, we can begin to understand how to treat them better."

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