The Brain Orchestra

I’ve been reading a journal article by Professors John Mitrofanis and Luke Henderson of the University of Sydney.

The title says it all: How and why does photobiomodulation change brain activity?

I was hooked in the second paragraph when there is discussion about the different parts of the brain and how they work work together and cooperate:

…comparable to that evident among different sets of musical instruments in an orchestra.

An orchestra! That’s a brilliant analogy and one that touches the heart of this wannabe orchestral double bass player.

In my previous blog posts, I’ve happily rattled on about how red and near infrared lights stimulate the batteries (the mitochondria) of individual brain cells. My focus has been on individual cells – the equivalent of individual instruments in the orchestra – and not what happens when a bunch of similar-type cells or instruments get an energy boost.

An orchestra combines lots of instruments, and many of the instruments are in groups – the violins, cellos, double basses (yes!), oboes, bassoons and clarinets, to name but some. Similarly, the brain organises neurones into different groups or networks – for thinking, planning, memory, emotions and so on.

Just like an orchestra, these networks of neurones all cooperate and work with each other.

When you are solving a problem, your thinking network predominates. If you are in the path of a stampeding herd of elephants, then your emotional network will send a massive signal of fear to get you to get out of the way as soon as possible. As one network is doing important stuff to keep you alive and functioning, other networks have to hold off and stay in the background until that important stuff has been completed. The analogy of an orchestra is quite perfect.

Prof John and Prof Luke summarise how trans-cranial red and near infrared light can strengthen and influence connections between important brain networks. This means that the whole brain, and therefore the whole person, functions better and more efficiently.

It made me ponder one of the things that I noticed, with astonishment, some eighteen months after starting to use my original bucket light hat. To give context, I’ve had a life-long problem finding nouns. My conversation would suddenly come to a screeching halt when the word I wanted just would not come to mind. Even worse, if someone tried to give me a possible word, it was always the wrong word and it made me lose track of whatever I had been thinking. I’d feel a total idiot, and it made me wary of being too chatty in company. To compensate, I have always given things a name, because I am very good at remembering names. Noun-finding was hopeless but name-finding was excellent. I don’t refer to the car, or wood-fired stove, tractor, piano, or my doublebass, because I use their names. It can be a bit strange for anyone staying with us, but they soon pick up the lingo. My musical friends all refer to my doublebass as Rinaldo, because they know that’s his name.

About eighteen months after twice-daily wearing of my bucket light hat, it suddenly hit me that I had had no troubles finding words, and it had been ages since I’d had one of the social moments when word-finding failed me. The only explanation was that somehow the daily transcranial lights had improved the network of neurones involved in retrieving words. It’s even better with the Coronet, and my crossword puzzle skills are now the best they have ever been.

Having read this excellent article, I am even more sure that I have been the beneficiary of boosted neural networks, and for this I am incredibly grateful.

This article presents other fascinating ideas – and I’ll deal with those in another blog post.

Reference: Mitrofanis J, Henderson LA. How and why does photobiomodulation change brain activity?. Neural Regen Res 2020;15:2243-4

Thanks to Kael Bloom on Unsplash for the fabulous doublebass photo.

Author: RedlightsontheBrain

Redlightsonthebrain is written by Catherine Hamilton, a retired doctor on behalf of Light Ahead Inc, a Tasmanian-based not-for-profit organisation. Light Ahead Inc aims to help people to learn about neurogenerative diseases and the practical, safe and scientifically-based things that may be able to help. Part of this is to provide low-cost access to red light devices, hence the DIY instructions on this blog. All sales of the Coronet red light device support the work of Light Ahead Inc.

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