Brain Talk with Legos to Celebrate National Lego day on January 28!
In the Protecting You, Protecting Me program, children learn about the constant communication that happens between the human brain and the rest of the body. They learn that their brain and body send each other messages all day, every day, to keep their body working so they can do everything they are meant to do as human beings. In honor of National Lego day on January 28, 2021, I came up with an idea to write this blog to explain the communication process that takes place between our brain and rest of our body using Legos as an example. Now, before I begin, if the following scenario has happened to you, my sincerest apologies!
The scenario is…stepping on a Lego. Ouch! Lego’s hurt so much when stepped on because they are comprised of a strong plastic called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and because Lego’s have a lot of sharp edges. Another reason is because we have a high concentration of nerves contained on the bottom of our feet (about 200,000 to be exact). Nerve cells are responsible for sending messages throughout our body, including informing the brain when something is painful.
The picture below shows the communication that happens between the brain and parts of the body upon contact with Lego and foot. The image shown is of the central nervous system which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that are located throughout the body.
Picture source: Magictorch (sidebar diagram); Shuttershock.com (nervous system)
1. Special nerve cells called nociceptors, in the skin activate when tissue is damaged.
2. Signals travel through nociceptors to the spinal cord by way of neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers pass the signal onto nerves that connect to the brain.
3. The spinal cord sends a signal back to your foot that triggers nerves involved in movement. They cause you to quickly move away from the source of danger before you even feel pain.
4. A part of the brain called the thalamus relays the original pain signal to sections of the brain responsible for sensation, thinking, and emotion. That causes you to register, interpret, and react to the pain.
It is important clear communication occurs between the brain and rest of the body, and that messages get sent and received without interference, distortion (to change so it cannot be understood), confusion, or slow speed. Imagine what would happen if you stepped on a Lego and the signals to your nerve cells on their pathway from your foot to your spinal cord and up to your brain were blocked, distorted, or delivered at a slow speed. Your spinal cord and brain would not register the imminent danger the Lego poses, therefore not activating nerves involved in movement which would result in you not quickly moving away from the source of danger. Your brain would not transmit the pain signals to areas of it responsible for sensation, thinking, and emotion and thus you would not register, interpret, or even react to the pain. The consequences of this could include you stepping on additional Legos in the future, and the potential risk of damaging your foot! Here I am using this Legos example to explain what could happen when there is not clear communication between the brain and rest of the body. What other scenarios where not having clear communication between the brain and rest of the body could result in harmful consequences?