AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Ballerinas Got the Brains!

A 2013 research article conducted by scientists at the Imperial College of London has dived into the ballet world and researched the brains of ballerinas. Their research led to the discovery that dancers can suppress signals of dizziness using the balance organs of the inner ear. The vestibular system, found in the inner ear, consists mainly of smaller circular canals. Each canal recognizes different motions: Up and Down, Side to side, and tilting. These canals are filled with hair and liquid which move with your body to send signals to the brain using the acoustic nerve. With this information, your brain can process balance, dizziness, and vertigo. These researchers became curious about how ballet dancers can perform multiple balanced pirouettes without feelings of dizziness. And as a dancer, I would say this is because of the technique of spotting which involves rapidly moving the head to keep one’s eyes on a fixed spot.

However, this study has proved that wrong. So, with the help of 29 ballet dancers and 20 rowers, the researchers put it to the test. Their method of testing involved putting the volunteers in a dark room and spinning them on a rotating chair. They then timed how long it took for the dizziness to stop. In addition, the researchers measure eye reflexes triggered by the vestibular organs and later completed MRI scans of the patient’s brain structure. The data they collected showed that the eye reflexes and perception of spinning lasted a shorter time with the dancers than with the rowers.

From this point, doctors wondered how they could transfer this ability to their patients. After taking an in-depth look at the dancer’s brains it was concluded that the cerebral cortex and cerebellum were the most affected. The cerebral cortex is found in the largest part of the brain and is responsible for speech, judgment, thinking and reasoning, problem-solving, emotions, learning, and the senses. While the cerebellumMajor parts of the brain, a fist-sized portion found in the back of the brain, uses neurons to coordinate voluntary muscle movements and to maintain posture, balance ,and equilibrium. In the AP Biology curriculum, learning the nervous system helps in one’s understanding of transport and membranes. The nervous system sends signals across the plasma membrane of a cell to the brain. With this signal, the cerebellum and cerebral cortex can process information and signal parts of the body to move. From looking at the MRI scans, scientists discovered that the dancer’s cerebellum was smaller. Scientists believed dancers would be better off not using their vestibular system and solely relying on “highly coordinated pre-programmed movements”. Scientists believe it is not necessary for dancers to feel dizziness so, their brains adapted to suppress that feeling. As a result, the signal that goes to the cerebral cortex is reduced. So, if scientists and doctors monitor the cerebral cortex they could begin to understand how to treat patients affected by chronic dizziness.



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1 Comment

  1. jouleian

    Hi emdaniels, thank you for sharing this interesting research on the ability of dancers to suppress feelings of dizziness. It’s fascinating to learn about the role of the vestibular system and the cerebral cortex and cerebellum in processing balance and dizziness. It’s also intriguing to consider the potential applications of this research in helping to treat patients with chronic dizziness. This study highlights the complexity of the human body and the ways in which it can adapt and change in response to different experiences and training. Upon learning about the vestibular system from your post, I was curious how this system played a role in combat sports athletes. I had heard the term vestibular from my boxing coach before so it was cool to actually research this. In the article,, I read This study that examined the effect of repetitive blows to the head on vestibular balance reflexes in combat sports athletes. The researchers compared muscle responses in the lower legs evoked by electrical vestibular stimulation in fighters (boxers and Muay Thai practitioners) and non-fighters. They found that the timing and amplitude of the responses were significantly different in the fighter group, and that the number of estimated cumulative repetitive head impact events correlated with these differences. The results suggest that vestibular impairment may occur in combat sports athletes due to repeated head impacts, and that vestibular assessments using this method may be useful in evaluating athletes’ readiness to return to play and making decisions about career length.

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