Occupational Neuroplasticity in the Human Brain: A Critical Review and Meta-Analysis of Neuroimaging Studies

Front Hum Neurosci. 2020 Jul 6;14:215. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2020.00215. eCollection 2020.


Many studies have revealed the structural or functional brain changes induced by occupational factors. However, it remains largely unknown how occupation-related connectivity shapes the brain. In this paper, we denote occupational neuroplasticity as the neuroplasticity that takes place to satisfy the occupational requirements by extensively professional training and to accommodate the long-term, professional work of daily life, and a critical review of occupational neuroplasticity related to the changes in brain structure and functional networks has been primarily presented. Furthermore, meta-analysis revealed a neurophysiological mechanism of occupational neuroplasticity caused by professional experience. This meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies showed that experts displayed stronger activation in the left precentral gyrus [Brodmann area (BA)6], left middle frontal gyrus (BA6), and right inferior frontal gyrus (BA9) than novices, while meta-analysis of structural studies suggested that experts had a greater gray matter volume in the bilateral superior temporal gyrus (BA22) and right putamen than novices. Together, these findings not only expand the current understanding of the common neurophysiological basis of occupational neuroplasticity across different occupations and highlight some possible targets for neural modulation of occupational neuroplasticity but also provide a new perspective for occupational science research.

Keywords: meta-analysis; neuroimaging; neuroplasticity; occupational neuroplasticity; occupational science.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review