Brain Research Plasticity
Be versatile adaptable to change; sounds like good advice, even for our brains. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Friedlander: Plasticity refers to the ability of circuits within the brain to change how they respond over time, based on experiences they’ve had.
Michael Friedlander is a professor Biological Sciences. He tells us that when it comes to our nervous system, the body uses different strategies for the different challenges we face.
Friedlander: Once a decision is made in your brain to do something – move my arm, pick up a cup, run — you don’t want your spinal chord to override it and say ‘well, maybe I won’t transmit that signal to my muscle; maybe I won’t run away from the predator now.’
But when it comes to other kinds of decision-making, the brain needs to be dynamic.
Friedlander: When we’re considering many different things – signals coming in from our sensory environment, what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard, memories we’re bringing forth, emotional experiences we’re having; we want to compare and integrate that information and then make a decision: go, no go. We don’t want all the connections between nerve cells to simply function as slaves or automatons, where every time one generates an impulse, the next generates an impulse. So this decision-making capacity that we think of being imbedded in our humanness we decide whether to eat, to drink, to wake up in the morning – is actually a function of groups of cells making decisions all the time.
It turns out that plasticity, the ability of brain’s to learn and adapt is a key to understanding how to treat addiction, depression, traumatic injuries and other disorders of the brain. We’ll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research.