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Overview of Neuroplasticity/Brain plasticity

Team AckoJan 16, 2023

Human brains are complex organs and are bestowed with unique ways to cope with trauma, injury, or brain-related accidents. You must have heard stories when a person miraculously regained full brain function after an accident! The science behind this is termed as Neuroplasticity! Read on to learn about this unique property of the brain.

 Neuroplasticity

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What is Neuroplasticity?

There are around 100 trillion connections in your brain! The word “neuro” is derived from the word neuron. Neurons are made up of many distinct cells specialised for transmitting what is happening in and around your body, with your brain serving as the command centre.

The word "plastic" is derived from the Latin word "plasticus," which initially meant "moulded, fashioned." Simply put, plasticity is a mechanism that assists the brain repair damage caused by events such as stroke or severe injury.

Neuroplasticity is a process in which the brain undergoes adaptive structural and functional changes. It is described as the nervous system's capacity to reorganise its structure, functions, or connections in response to intrinsic or external stimuli, such as a stroke or traumatic brain damage (TBI).

Historical background of the concept

In the early years, scientists assumed that the brain was a "non-renewable organ" and that brain cells were limited in number and died slowly as we aged. But, over the last decade, continuous research has revealed methods for regenerating nerve cells. This is referred to as "neurogenesis."

Neuroplasticity is a related yet different concept: it's the brain's ability to establish new connections and pathways and modify how its circuits are linked. The term neuronal plasticity was used by the pioneer of neuroscience, Santiago Cajal, in the early 1900s to characterise non-pathological changes in the structure of adult brains.

Types of Neuroplasticity

Two kinds of Neuroplasticity are frequently discussed: Structural Neuroplasticity and Functional Neuroplasticity.

Structural Neuroplasticity: The ability of the brain to modify its neural connections is commonly characterised as structural plasticity. Based on this sort of Neuroplasticity, new neurons are continually created and incorporated into the central nervous system throughout one’s life.

Functional Neuroplasticity: This is related to the past activity (activity-dependent plasticity) to acquire memory or as a result of neuron dysfunction or injury (maladaptive plasticity) to adjust for a pathological occurrence.

The brain's adaptive mechanisms in young children are more potent, allowing them to heal from damage more effectively than most adults. In children, four forms of Neuroplasticity have been observed:

  • Adaptive: Changes that occur as children practise a particular skill, allowing the brain to adapt to functional or anatomical changes in the brain (such as injuries).

  • Impaired: Changes that arise as a result of hereditary or acquired illnesses.

  • Excessive: The formation of novel, inappropriate pathways can result in impairment or diseases.

  • Plasticity that makes the brain sensitive to damage: The formation of damaging neural circuits that make injury more likely or more severe.

Stages of Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is a complex process and is currently under study. Neuroplasticity has historically been assumed to occur in three stages.

  • The first 48 hours: Depending on the nature of the injury (stroke or TBI), early damage leads to cell death and the loss of specific cortical circuits connected with the lost neurons. To preserve function, the brain strives to use secondary neural networks. 

  • In the next weeks: As the cortical circuits switch from inhibitory to excitatory, synaptic plasticity and new connections are formed. 

  • Weeks to months later: The brain continues reorganising itself via axonal regeneration.

Significance of Neuroplasticity in therapy

When we learn something new, our neurons form new connections. To adapt to new situations, we rewire our brains. This happens continuously, and it has many benefits in medical therapy.

  • As we learn new things, like a new song or playing a new instrument, we form new brain pathways. We create the potential to connect neurons within the brain by activating the neuroplastic mechanism. 

  • Deep brain stimulation, non-invasive brain stimulation, neuropharmacology, exercise, cognitive training, or feedback utilising real-time functional magnetic resonance are all promising treatments based on the neuroplastic nature of the brain.

  • A greater knowledge of the processes driving Neuroplasticity following brain injury or nerve lesion might aim to improve the patient's quality of life.

  • Recovery from brain strokes, brain cancer, and memory loss are all related to the brain's neuroplastic behaviour.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism can be managed by applying the principles of Neuroplasticity.

  • According to research, the brains of persons suffering from depression have issues with plasticity. Lifestyle modifications (healthy diet, physical activity, and enough sleep), according to experts, may increase Neuroplasticity. Furthermore, several antidepressants are thought to be effective because they improve Neuroplasticity.

Ways to rewire your brain using Neuroplasticity

Let's take a look at some ways by which you can get the benefits of Neuroplasticity.

  • Travelling exposes your brain to novel stimuli and situations, forming new neural connections and activity.

  • Intermittent fasting boosts neuron proliferation, improves general cognitive performance, and lowers the risk of neurodegenerative illness.

  • Learning to play a musical instrument may strengthen the connection between brain areas and aid in the formation of new neural networks.

  • Memory training with mnemonic devices can improve connection in the prefrontal and parietal networks and prevent some age-related memory decline.

  • Yoga, mild to moderate regular exercise, and challenging brain activities like crosswords or sudoku help develop new brain pathways and improve neuron connection.

  • Reading fiction boosts and improves brain connections.

  • Vocabulary expansion engages the visual and auditory processes and memory processing.

  • Creating art improves brain connections during rest.

  • Dancing lowers the risk of Alzheimer's disease and improves cerebral connections.

  • Sleeping promotes learning retention by enabling the creation of dendritic spines, which connect neurons and aid in transferring information between cells.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the frequently asked questions and their answers related to Neuroplasticity.

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What would happen if Neuroplasticity did not exist?

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity, is the brain's ability to change its connections or rewire itself. Any brain, not only the human brain, would be unable to develop from infancy to adulthood or heal from brain damage without this capacity.

Is Neuroplasticity possible at any age?

Scientists have long known that the brain is robust, thanks mainly to Neuroplasticity, which allows it to remodel itself and change connections. Previously, experts believed that Neuroplasticity ceased after childhood. According to new studies, it persists even as we age.

Is it possible to learn without Neuroplasticity?

The brain is constantly rebuilding and altering its connections due to Neuroplasticity. It can restructure its structure as well as how it works. This encompasses learning, development, and memory formation. Neuroplasticity is a key element when it comes to learning. 

What effect does Neuroplasticity have on behaviour?

Making or breaking a habit includes neuroplastic brain change. People desire something because their plastic brains have been tuned to and crave the substance or experience. Thus, Neuroplasticity has a great effect on behaviour.

References

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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