A 24-year-old woman who admitted herself to the hospital in China after suffering from dizzy spells and an upset stomach just received some unexpected news: after they scanned her brain, the woman's doctors found an empty hole where her cerebellum should be, the New Scientist reports. She is only the ninth person ever to be discovered to have led a relatively normal life despite being born without that part of the brain. As the New Scientist reports, most people who suffer from this rare condition die very young.
The cerebellum sits at the base of the brain, accounting for about 10 percent of that organ's mass but housing up to half of its neurons. It plays roles in coordination, balance and speech. As the woman's symptoms and previous life history show, these faculties were indeed somewhat impaired. As the New Scientist reports:
She told doctors she'd had problems walking steadily for most of her life, and her mother reported that she hadn't walked until she was 7 and that her speech only became intelligible at the age of 6.
Problems in the cerebellum can lead to severe mental impairment, movement disorders, epilepsy or a potentially fatal build-up of fluid in the brain.
The woman in question, however, seems to have largely managed to find workarounds for her missing cerebellum. Her speech is slightly slurred and her balance isn't the best, but as a whole she is doing much better than would be expected, her doctors say. As the doctors told the New Scientist, "her case highlights the remarkable plasticity of the brain."