Neuroplasticity- A lifelong dialogue between your brain and the environment.

Vidita Vaidya,
Department of Biological Sciences,
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research,
Mumbai, India

The brain is plastic. This refers to the ability of the brain to undergo changes based on experience, allowing it to continuously reorganize itself. Experience-dependent plasticity changes the functional outputs of neuronal circuits, and underlies the very ability of the brain to adapt to changing environments. Plasticity can occur at multiple levels, spanning the spectrum from changes in gene expression, structural remodeling and rewiring of neurons, and synaptic plasticity (changes at the contacts between neurons) that results in the strengthening/weakening of connections based on experience. Such plasticity allows the brain to “learn” from experience, and to “store” information for future recall. However, being “plastic” comes with the risk of vulnerability to damage, and plastic changes in neuronal networks can also be maladaptive. While accumulating evidence suggests that the brain remains fairly plastic throughout life, it is clear that there are also time-windows in early life when the brain is most sensitive to its environment, referred to as “critical periods”. These critical periods allow neurocircuits, which are laid out through a genetic blueprint, to adjust their functional outputs based on the environment they experience. Studies in diverse model organisms, including fruit flies and rodents, have shed light on the mechanisms that contribute to plastic changes in neuronal circuits. These studies provide the framework to understand how neuroplasticity contributes to learning and memory, and both damage and repair in brain disorders.

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