The timescale of structural remodeling that accompanies functional neuroplasticity is largely unknown. Although structural remodeling of human brain tissue is known to occur following long-term (weeks) acquisition of a new skill, little is known as to what happens structurally when the brain needs to adopt new sequences of procedural rules or memorize a cascade of events within minutes or hours. Using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), an MRI-based framework, we examined subjects before and after a spatial learning and memory task. Microstructural changes (as reflected by DTI measures) of limbic system structures (hippocampus and parahippocampus) were significant after only 2 hr of training. This observation was also found in a supporting rat study. We conclude that cellular rearrangement of neural tissue can be detected by DTI, and that this modality may allow neuroplasticity to be localized over short timescales.
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