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  • Dhruti Pattabhi

Neuroplasticity: An Overview

So you're a human. Chances are, you’ve developed a set of strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you have certain hobbies, interests, or personal activities. You’ve probably failed or succeeded at something, or even given up halfway through. In fact, accomplishment or not, everything you have done up to this point— every sports practice, recital, or even math problem— has shaped and molded your brain into what it is right now. It’s a phenomenon scientists call “neuroplasticity”.

Implications of neuroplasticity in everyday life can range from remembering to brush your teeth to taking a new route to the supermarket. Simply put, it’s the nervous system’s way of adapting to external changes by increasing or decreasing connections within your brain. When people undergo severe head trauma or stroke, neuroplasticity can be either beneficial in restoring functions or detrimental by causing major pathological consequences.

Neuroplasticity can often be broken up into two types. Synaptic plasticity – an example of structural neuroplasticity— can be best defined as the ability to strengthen neural connections. As we learn, adapt, and expand, neural connections rapidly develop, increasing memory storage through a process known as “long term potentiation”.

Functional reorganization —an example of functional neuroplasticity— is essentially one part of the brain making up for a damaged section. Functions from the damaged section can “transfer” to a healthier section, utilizing neural pathways to regain capacity.

When exposed to trauma or stress, neuroplasticity can have negative implications. Depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia can trace back to alterations in neuroplastic charge, and exemplify how pathological and behavioral consequences can stem from negative experiences.

Until now, your brain has developed itself based on every interaction and experience and will likely continue to do so for the years to come. Subconsciously, neuroplasticity has enabled you to perform more advanced functions and skills and evolve your range of thought. And of course, neuroplasticity can be considered an umbrella-term that classifies other incredibly complex neurological functions. For in-depth explanations, be sure to check out more resources to explore the topic yourself!

Neuroplasticity at a chemical level:

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