Dynamic Brains and the Changing Rules of Neuroplasticity: Implications for Learning and Recovery

Front Psychol. 2017 Oct 4;8:1657. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01657. eCollection 2017.


A growing number of research publications have illustrated the remarkable ability of the brain to reorganize itself in response to various sensory experiences. A traditional view of this plastic nature of the brain is that it is predominantly limited to short epochs during early development. Although examples showing that neuroplasticity exists outside of these finite time-windows have existed for some time, it is only recently that we have started to develop a fuller understanding of the different regulators that modulate and underlie plasticity. In this article, we will provide several lines of evidence indicating that mechanisms of neuroplasticity are extremely variable across individuals and throughout the lifetime. This variability is attributable to several factors including inhibitory network function, neuromodulator systems, age, sex, brain disease, and psychological traits. We will also provide evidence of how neuroplasticity can be manipulated in both the healthy and diseased brain, including recent data in both young and aged rats demonstrating how plasticity within auditory cortex can be manipulated pharmacologically and by varying the quality of sensory inputs. We propose that a better understanding of the individual differences that exist within the various mechanisms that govern experience-dependent neuroplasticity will improve our ability to harness brain plasticity for the development of personalized translational strategies for learning and recovery following brain injury or disease.

Keywords: brain; learning; neuromodulatory systems; neuroscience; plasticity; plasticity regulators; recovery; regulators.