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What Is Neuroplasticity And Its Types?

What does neuroplasticity mean and what we need to know about it. Let’s find out.

A jellyfish analogous to neuroplasticity and its types

Our brain is such a complex organ, right. It is so hard to understand its cognitive processes. Besides, recent researches have made it almost impossible to understand our thought processes.

If we assume our brain as a high school or college subject, it would be frustrating to deal with it. However, it is also the complexity of our brain that makes it a unique and valuable organ. Most importantly, it is the seat of the power of intelligence.

But, “Are we aware of everything that happens in our mind, or is there something else we need to know?”

The old and conventional researches had many flaws and misunderstandings regarding brain processes. However, the new ones have refuted the common beliefs of the limited capability of the brain.

So, “What has the recent research discovered about the human thought processes?”

Well, they have discovered that our brain is no longer a machine and is capable of forming its constituents. This ability of the brain to adapt to everchanging conditions is known as neuroplasticity.

But, “What exactly is neuroplasticity?”

So, let us discuss it in our next section.


You can also watch the video below by Dr. Kelly Lambert at TEDxBermuda to know more about neuroplasticity:

Improving our neuroplasticity | Dr. Kelly Lambert | TEDxBermuda

What is neuroplasticity?

In the above introductory section, we went through the complexity of brain processes. Hence, here we will discuss neuroplasticity.

So, “What is neuroplasticity?”

According to Wikipedia,

Neuroplasticity, also known as neural plasticity, or brain plasticity, is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. These changes range from individual neurons making new connections, to systematic adjustments like cortical remapping.

In the 1960s, many researchers believed that the structuring of neurons is fixed. Besides, they also believed that changes in the brain only occur in early childhood and not later in adulthood.

However, the belief in the permanent structuring of the brain stemmed from three reasons:

  1. They assumed the brain as a machine, capable to do anything but incapable of change.
  2. Due to the absence of technology, they could never observe the microscopic effects in brain activities.
  3. The did not believe in the recovery of psychologically damaged persons.

What do modern researchers say about brain workings?

The old beliefs are no longer relevant due to modern researches as neuroscientists have found that the brain creates new neural paths and configures the old ones after absorbing new experiences.

A scientist showing samples of neuroplasticity
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Besides, through these experiences, it learns new information to create memories. As a result, the researchers concluded that our brain structure is not fixed but flexible and changes over a lifetime.

Modern research has demonstrated that the brain continues to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones in order to adapt to new experiences, learn new information, and create new memories.

– verywellmind

In other words, our brain processes are not limited to mental abilities and improve themselves over a lifetime. Hence, the psychologically damaged ones can be cured due to shifting neural pathways.

So, we know about neuroplasticity and the way it influences our brain workings.

But, “How does neuroplasticity work?”

“How does it changes our neural pathways and synaptic responses?”

Let’s discuss that in our next section.


How does neuroplasticity work?

Oddly, our neurons are so flexible and adaptable as an elastic, right.

Besides, who would have thought that our neural pathways change as we grow. Moreover, we don’t even feel that it is happening in our heads.

But it does.

So, “How does neuroplasticity work?”

Well, to discuss that, we need to dive into our childhood because that is where our answers lie.

For instance, as a child, when we see something, we adopt it as a part of our memory. We learn new information and form our understanding based on them. As we grow, we have almost nothing new to learn and find things that could provide us with information.

Likewise, our neural plasticity is at its peak when we are under 3 years of age. At birth, we have nearly 2500 synapses, which grow up to 15000 synapses per neuron in early childhood. However, when we become adults, we only have half the synapses in our neurons.

A girl gaining new experiences
Photo by Naveen Annam from Pexels

It is because after gaining new experiences, some of our neural connections strengthen while others are removed. This process is called synaptic pruning.

So, “Does that mean our brain is like a boss, hiring the used ones and firing the unused ones?”

Yes, our brain eliminates unused neural connections. It is more like the job of psychic cleaning.

As a result, our brain strengthens the neurons that are used frequently and removes the ones that are not. The ones that remain unused eventually die.

Thus, our brain is smart enough to adapt to changing circumstances and influence our experiences.


What are the types of neuroplasticity?

So far, we discussed neuroplasticity and its working process.

We have also discussed how are our neural activities chang with growing years.

Now, let us study what are its types.

Neuroplasticity is divided into two types:

  • Functional plasticity
  • Structural plasticity

1. Functional plasticity:

When the brain moves the functions from a damaged area to healthy ones, it is called functional plasticity.

If our neurons damage due to accidents or unfortunate circumstances, then our neural path changes from the damaged area to the undamaged or healthy ones. It happens in psychologically damaged individuals.

2. Structural plasticity:

When the brain changes its physical structure as a result of learning and absorbing new experiences, it is called structural plasticity.

In other words, when we gain new experiences or learn something new, our neural structure undergoes a permanent change. As a result, the synapses per neuron change, and we can recall memories and experiences beforehand.

Now, we have discussed the types of neuroplasticity and its significance in our lives.

But there is something else that is related to neuroplasticity and affects it to a great deal.

So, let’s discuss what that is.


What is the link between BDNF and neuroplasticity?

Just yesterday, I was going through an article that derived the relation between BDNF and neuroplasticity.

Hence, I included this section to understand what is BDNF and how is it related to neuroplasticity.

So, “What is the link between BDNF and neuroplasticity?”

Well, the process of neuroplasticity, which emphasizes on cell birth and death, is influenced by proteins. These proteins help the cells to recover and regenerate and are called neurotrophins. One of the neurotrophins is the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).

So, “What is BDNF?”

BDNF is one of the neurotrophins that are developed in the womb as a fetus and remain until our death. These proteins help neurons survive in the continuous process of neuroplasticity.

As a result, most of the neurons fight for these proteins to carry on with the synaptic responses. The neurons that do not receive enough of this protein die or perish.

Neuroplasticity and its types

BDNF is excellent at managing the balance of energy consumed and expenditure, which is called energy homeostasis. Moreover, it is also very good at enhancing our memory and cognitive processes.

Further, the high levels of this protein enhance cognitive functioning, mental health, and short and long-term memory.

Our BDNF levels also depend on our physical fitness. Obese individuals have low BDNF, while healthy ones have high BDNF. Besides, it is difficult for obese ones to increase BDNF as they consume saturated fat and processed sugars.

Our neurotrophins, especially BDNF, are related to neuroplasticity due to the need for proteins and better neural connections.


Final Words:

To sum up, neuroplasticity is the malleability and flexibility of our brain functioning. Moreover, it is also influenced by neurotrophins that are vital for the survival of neurons.

Therefore, our modern researches have effectively pointed out the adaptability of our neurons that help us absorb new experiences and memories.

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