Imaging brain plasticity: conceptual and methodological issues--a theoretical review

Neuroimage. 2000 Jul;12(1):1-13. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2000.0596.


The neural plasticity associated with learning and development is increasingly being studied using functional neuroimaging methods such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In this paper I outline a set of conceptual and methodological issues that are particularly relevant for the study of neural plasticity. A number of confounds, related to changes in performance and the inherently temporal nature of learning and development, must be addressed when imaging plasticity. The interpretation of changes in imaging signals is greatly underdetermined, suggesting that hypothesis-driven research approaches may be most fruitful. Finally, I argue that the imaging of learning-related and developmental plasticity can enhance the ability of functional neuroimaging to identify and characterize the underlying neural basis of cognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Neurosciences / methods
  • Radiography
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*