Imperial College London

Centre for Neurotechnology Seminar 10th December - Tamar Makin


Tamar Makin

Tamar Makin

Adaptive and maladaptive brain plasticity in amputees

Centre for Neurotechnology seminar, Wednesday 10th December, 4pm

Adaptive and maladaptive brain plasticity in amputees

TAMAR MAKIN, Wellcome Trust/Royal Society Sir Henry Dale Fellow, University of Oxford

4.01, Royal School of Mines Building, South Kensington Campus


Following arm-amputation, a person faces overwhelming challenges to adapt to their daily routine. Simple everyday tasks, such as lacing shoes, become a tremendous challenge, which amputees have to learn to overcome single-handed. Their brain, too, will undergo major changes. Brain areas that previously operated the hand will become unemployed, and will subsequently be “recruited” to work for other body parts. This ability to dynamically reassign processing responsibilities to a certain brain area based on changing circumstances (termed ‘plasticity’) is key for our basic ability to adapt to new situations. In amputees, this process is widely held to result in the experience of phantom limb pain (pain that is perceived to be arising from the missing hand), and is therefore considered to be maladaptive. I present evidence to challenge the proposed link between cortical reorganisation and phantom pain, and instead demonstrate that plasticity in amputees can be adaptive. First, I demonstrate that despite years of input and output loss, representation of the missing (‘phantom’) hand is preserved in the human brain. I will show that phantom pain is associated with maintained representation of the phantom hand as opposed to brain plasticity, with potential implications on future treatment. I will also provide new evidence that compensatory behaviour leads to extensive structural and functional adaptive reorganisation, both within the missing hand territory and across the brain. Based on this evidence, I suggest that plasticity in amputees is experience-dependant, and is not inherently maladaptive.


My research focuses on multisensory brain reorganisation in body representation. My primary model for this work is individuals with a hand-loss.  I joined FMRIB in 2009, first as a Newton International Fellow (Royal Society), and later as a Marie Curie Early Career Development Fellow (European Commission), to lead a research programme on brain plasticity associated with hand-loss. In 2014, I was awarded the Sir Henry Dale Fellowship to found the Perception and Action Group to extend this research further.


Please contact Dr Aldo Faisal ( to meet the speaker.



Kate Hobson

Kate Hobson
Department of Bioengineering

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Contact details

Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 5101

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