Experience-driven brain plasticity: beyond the synapse

Neuron Glia Biol. 2004 Nov;1(4):351-63. doi: 10.1017/s1740925x05000219.


The brain is remarkably responsive to its interactions with the environment, and its morphology is altered by experience in measurable ways. Histological examination of the brains of animals exposed to either a complex ('enriched') environment or learning paradigm, compared with appropriate controls, has illuminated the nature of experience-induced morphological plasticity in the brain. For example, this research reveals that changes in synapse number and morphology are associated with learning and are stable, in that they persist well beyond the period of exposure to the learning experience. In addition, other components of the nervous system also respond to experience: oligodendrocytes and axonal myelination might also be permanently altered, whereas changes in astrocytes and cerebrovasculature are more transient and appear to be activity- rather than learning-driven. Thus, experience induces multiple forms of plasticity in the brain that are apparently regulated, at least in part, by independent mechanisms.