Black belts' white matter shows how a powerful punch comes from the brainAugust 15, 2012
Brain scans have revealed distinctive features in the brain structure of karate experts, which could be linked to their ability to punch powerfully from close range. Researchers from Imperial College London and UCL (University College London) found that differences in the structure of white matter - the connections between brain regions - were correlated with how black belts and novices performed in a test of punching ability.
Karate experts are able to generate extremely powerful forces with their punches, but how they do this is not fully understood. Previous studies have found that the force generated in a karate punch is not determined by muscular strength, suggesting that factors related to the control of muscle movement by the brain might be important.
The study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, looked for differences in brain structure between 12 karate practitioners with a black belt rank and an average of 13.8 years' karate experience, and 12 control subjects of similar age who exercised regularly but did not have any martial arts experience.
The researchers tested how powerfully the subjects could punch, but to make useful comparisons with the punching of novices they restricted the task to punching from short range - a distance of 5 centimetres. The subjects wore infrared markers on their arms and torso to capture the speed of their movements.
As expected, the karate group punched harder. The power of their punches seemed to be down to timing: the force they generated correlated with how well the movement of their wrists and shoulders were synchronised.
Brain scans showed that the microscopic structure in certain regions of the brain differed between the two groups. Each brain region is composed of grey matter, consisting of the main bodies of nerve cells, and white matter, which is mainly made up of bundles of fibres that carry signals from one region to another. The scans used in this study, called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), detected structural differences in the white matter of parts of the brain called the cerebellum and the primary motor cortex, which are known to be involved in controlling movement.
The differences measured by DTI in the cerebellum correlated with the synchronicity of the subjects' wrist and shoulder movements when punching. The DTI signal also correlated with the age at which karate experts began training and their total experience of the discipline. These findings suggest that the structural differences in the brain are related to the black belts' punching ability.
"Most research on how the brain controls movement has been based on examining how diseases can impair motor skills," said Dr Ed Roberts, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, who led the study. "We took a different approach, by looking at what enables experts to perform better than novices in tests of physical skill.
"The karate black belts were able to repeatedly coordinate their punching action with a level of coordination that novices can't produce. We think that ability might be related to fine tuning of neural connections in the cerebellum, allowing them to synchronise their arm and trunk movements very accurately.
"We're only just beginning to understand the relationship between brain structure and behaviour, but our findings are consistent with earlier research showing that the cerebellum plays a critical role in our ability to produce complex, coordinated movements.
"There are several factors that can affect the DTI signal, so we can't say exactly what features of the white matter these differences correspond to. Further studies using more advanced techniques will give us a clearer picture."
The study was supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Wellcome Trust, and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University College London.
Imperial College London
Related White Matter Current Events and White Matter News Articles
Head injury patients develop brain clumps associated with Alzheimer's disease
Scientists have revealed that protein clumps associated with Alzheimer's disease are also found in the brains of people who have had a head injury.
New MRI technique offers faster diagnosis of multiple sclerosis
A new way of using MRI scanners to look for evidence of multiple sclerosis in the brain has been successfully tested by researchers at The University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.
Technique helps predict likelihood of migraines in concussion patients
Researchers are using a mathematical tool to help determine which concussion patients will go on to suffer migraine headaches, according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology.
Study reveals subtle brain differences in men with autism
Research at King's College London has revealed subtle brain differences in adult males with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which may go some way towards explaining why symptoms persist into adulthood in some people with the disorder.
Study details source of mental problems associated with MS
A study out today sheds new light on multiple sclerosis (MS), specifically damage in the brain caused by the disease that may explain the slow and continuous cognitive decline that many patients experience.
New theory linking brain activity to brain shape could throw light on human consciousness
UNSW Australia scientists have shown that complex human brain activity is governed by the same simple universal rule of nature that can explain other phenomena such as the beautiful sound of a finely crafted violin or the spots on a leopard.
Poverty linked to childhood depression, changes in brain connectivity
Many negative consequences are linked to growing up poor, and researchers at Washington University St. Louis have identified one more: altered brain connectivity.
MRI shows 'brain scars' in military personnel with blast-related concussion
MRI shows brain damage in a surprisingly high percentage of active duty military personnel who suffered blast-related mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), according to a new study appearing online in the journal Radiology.
Studies reveal the surprising complexity of cognitive issues in children with epilepsy
Children with epilepsy face a number of challenges compared with their healthy peers, including an increased risk of cognitive impairment.
Prenatal maternal iron intake shown to affect the neonatal brain
In the first study of its kind, researchers have shown that inadequate maternal iron intake during pregnancy exerts subtle effects on infant brain development. Their findings have been published online by the journal Pediatric Research.
More White Matter Current Events and White Matter News Articles