Neuroplasticity, Learning, and Memory

by Jason Amores Sumpter
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our brains have an amazing ability to reorganize themselves. We call this ability narrow plasticity, and this is when our neurons reorganize themselves by modifying and forming new connections. Now this is, uh, related thio synaptic plasticity, which is the ability of neurons to strengthen or weaken their connections based on various activity patterns. And you can see a very simplified version of that here, where we have one neuron that receive stimulation that's going thio have some change occurring at synapse and another neuron that does not receive stimulation and does not change its synapse. So synaptic plasticity is sort of a mechanism that contributes to neuro plasticity. Now, one amazing example of neuro plasticity can be seen here with something known as phantom limb syndrome with phantom limb syndrome. Basically, people who have lost a limb, um, will still experience the presence of the limb there. And that's because even though they lost the limb very suddenly, their neural networks haven't adapted yet to that change. So one amazing way that people deal with phantom limb syndrome is by using something called a mirror box. So it's very common for people with phantom limb syndrome to feel as though, Uh, the limb they've lost is, like, tensed up and and uncomfortable. So one way they deal with this is by using a mirror box, and they'll have the person, uh, you know, essentially use the hand or, you know, the limb that they still have in the mirror box, and it will appear to them as if it's the limb that they're missing the phantom limb and so they can take that limb in the mirror box and they can e. They could, like, tense it up and then ease the tension and relax it. And it will appear like it's the phantom limb doing that, and that will actually help change their neural networks. Thio get rid of that discomfort. So pretty amazing stuff. Neural plasticity. Also, people with traumatic brain injuries are capable of, you know, recovering lost functions due to brain damage by reorganizing other parts of their brain to pick up the slack and carry out those functions that they're not even supposed to do. Technically, it's pretty incredible, and this, you know, this capacity is much greater when we're younger and we sort of lose it as we get older, which is why you know, Children are so much better able to recover from brain injuries, for example, and also better able to learn things. Now, Nure O Genesis is the growth of new nervous tissue. And this occurs mostly when we're developing embryos as adults, we really can't produce new nervous tissue. However, there are some small exceptions Now, all of this narrow plasticity synaptic plasticity is ah highly, um, related to you learning and memory. Now learning is going to be, uh, technically acquiring, modifying or reinforcing some type of knowledge, behavior or skill. So, uh, you know, you can, uh, for example, learn a new skill, and then you're going to be adapting your brain to that new skill. Or you can have, you know, a neural network that's already in place for some particular behavior, for example, and and reinforce that make it stronger, strengthen that behavior, so to speak. Memory, on the other hand, is going to be the encoding storage and retrieval of information. There's actually different types of memory. We actually have what's known as sensory memory, and this is a very transient type of memory. It's basically, uh, the ability to hold sensory information for just like a second after you perceive it. So, for example, if you look at something and then very quickly, close your eyes for a second you hold that image in your mind is if you're still looking at it, it's It's that sensory memory of what you were just experiencing thebe perception that you just had. Now there's also short term memory, which is this ability to recall a small number of items without actually having to sort of, like, rehearse it. Technically, rehearsal is jargon term and is, you know when. For example, if you're trying to memorize something, you repeat it over and over and over to yourself, just kind of strength in it in your mind. So short term memory is our ability to, you know, kind of without having to really try to remember things hold just a few limited pieces of information in our mind. In fact, it's thought to be about, um, seven pieces of information, and that's why telephone numbers are seven digits long. So there you go now, long term memory is going to be information and knowledge that's stored and recalled for a very long time. In fact, it could be potentially your entire life that you can retrieve this information and the mechanism behind this. Um, you know, long term formation of memory is thought to be something called long term potential ation. And this is the long term strengthening of a synapse based on activity patterns. And it's, you know, this is thought to be its its extrapolated to be involved in the cellular mechanisms behind learning and memory. Essentially, you know, we're not I'm not trying to sit here and tell you that, uh, all memory comes from long term potentially ation, but there's definitely some involvement of this process in long term memory. So what happens with long term potentially ation? Well, essentially, uh, you know, let's take our example. Synapse. Now, due to some type of activity pattern, this connection is going to be strengthened. And one of the ways it will be strengthened is by adding new receptors to the post synaptic, post synaptic side of the synapse. And you can see that here we only have two receptors. Whereas over on this side here, we now have four receptors. So that's going to strengthen that synapse, right? Another thing that can happen is by releasing Mawr neuro transmitter, we will strengthen that connection. See, here we're only releasing a little bit of neuro transmitter here. We're releasing a lot more neuro transmitter. So these two effects are gonna add together and result in a much stronger connection at this synapse by a combination of added receptors and added neurotransmitter. So those two, uh, those sort of two facets air going to combined together and produce a much stronger overall response with that, let's go ahead and turn the page.