Degenerate neuronal systems sustaining cognitive functions

J Anat. 2004 Dec;205(6):433-42. doi: 10.1111/j.0021-8782.2004.00343.x.


The remarkable resilience of cognitive functions to focal brain damage suggests that multiple degenerate neuronal systems can sustain the same function either via similar mechanisms or by implementing different cognitive strategies. In degenerate functional neuroanatomy, multiple degenerate neuronal systems might be present in a single brain where they are either co-activated or remain latent during task performance. In degeneracy over subjects, a particular function may be sustained by only one neuronal system within a subject, but by different systems over subjects. Degeneracy over subjects might have arisen from (ab)normal variation in neurodevelopmental trajectories or long-term plastic changes following structural lesions. We discuss how degenerate neuronal systems can be revealed using (1) intersubject variability, (2) multiple lesion studies and (3) an iterative approach integrating information from lesion and functional imaging studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / pathology*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests