Neural plasticity: the biological substrate for neurorehabilitation

PM R. 2010 Dec;2(12 Suppl 2):S208-19. doi: 10.1016/j.pmrj.2010.10.016.


Decades of basic science have clearly demonstrated the capacity of the central nervous system (CNS) to structurally and functionally adapt in response to experience. The field of neurorehabilitation has begun to use this body of work to develop neurobiologically informed therapies that harness the key behavioral and neural signals that drive neural plasticity. The present review describes how neural plasticity supports both learning in the intact CNS and functional improvement in the damaged or diseased CNS. A pragmatic, interdisciplinary definition of neural plasticity is presented that may be used by both clinical and basic scientists studying neurorehabilitation. Furthermore, a description of how neural plasticity may act to drive different neural strategies underlying functional improvement after CNS injury or disease is provided. The understanding of the relationship between these different neural strategies, mechanisms of neural plasticity, and changes in behavior may facilitate the development of novel, more effective rehabilitation interventions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Central Nervous System / injuries*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Recovery of Function / physiology