A Moment of Science

Rat Whiskers Prevent Stroke!

Scientists are experimenting with rat whiskers. The have found that they stop a stroke from occurring. Cool, right? But, would it work on humans?

white rat with long whiskers

Photo: Krista van der Voorden (Flickr)

Scientists have found that they can stop a rat from having a stroke by simply stroking its whiskers.

The secret to stopping a stroke in its tracks might lie in a lab rat’s whiskers.

Yes, Really, A Rat’s Whiskers.

Researchers at the University of California Irvine wanted to see how a section of the brain called the cerebral cortex–the part involved with complex thought–responds during a stroke.

So they took some rats, blocked arteries sending blood to their brains, and prepared to record what happened in the cerebral cortex when, inevitably, the rats had a stroke.

But to their surprise, the rats were fine. Stroke never happened.

Why Not?

Because of the rats’ whiskers. A rat’s whiskers, you see, have a strong connection to its cerebral cortex. So to light up the cortex when they assumed a stroke would occur, the researchers tweaked the rats’ sensitive whiskers as a sort of trigger.

But as they discovered, stimulating just a single whisker did more than activate the cerebral cortex. It also somehow caused blood in the plugged arteries to flow backwards and find another route to the brain. And so the rats avoided a stroke.

Would This Work In People?

It’s not clear that preventing stroke in this way would work in people. After all, we don’t have whiskers. But our fingers and lips are similar to rats’ whiskers in that they’re connected to our brains in nearly the same way.

So it’s possible that, in the event of a stroke, stimulating fingertips and lips may help stop it. Further research will help scientists know for sure.

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