Neuroplasticity is known as the ability of the brain to change.

BrightStar’s technology is founded upon the principle of neuroplasticity: that the brain can be stimulated to change and adapt.

Until recently, neuroscientists assumed that the brain was fixed in terms of function and construction. It was thought that neurological development of the brain stopped after mid-childhood (~ 8 years old).

Nowadays, the data supporting the notion of neuroplasticity has grown to such an extent that it has replaced former assumptions. Brain plasticity is a paramount gift we all can embrace. It helps us to develop new skills, discover new modalities, recover from injury, cope with pain, and compensate for certain disorders. 

Development timeline

1890, Earliest mention
The theory of ‘brain plasticity’ has first been proposed in 1890 by William James , in his seminal work ‘The Principles of Psychology‘. There he noted that:

“Organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity.”

This theory was, in the main, neglected until the 1970s.

1920s, First findings
Evidence of neuroplasticity continued to pop up from time to time. In 1923, for instance, Karl Lashley 2 performed experiments demonstrating changes in neural pathways. Lashley concluded that these changes were the proof of brain plasticity. 

1940s, Cell interaction
Next came Hebbian learning, attributed to Donald Hebb of McGill University. In 1949, Hebb 3 wrote that if the axon of one cell was close enough to another cell, it could excite the neighboring cell. If this interaction occurred on a repetitive basis, there would be some type of structural or chemical change in one or both of the cells so that the first cell’s efficiency would be increased.

After 1960, Modern science
In the sixties more persuasive proof of plasticity began to make itself apparent. Evidence of neuroplasticity was brought to the scientific world by such notables as Paul Bach-y-Rita, Michael Merzenich, and Jon Kaas.

Bach-y-Rita 4, for example, created a device for those afflicted with congenital blindness that enabled reading, shadow perception, and the differentiation between objects near and far. It was Bach-y-Rita’s contention that if one sense were to sustain damage, a person’s other senses might be able to compensate. As Bach-y-Rita stated, “We see with our brains, not with our eyes.

Brain exercises
Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich 5 was a pioneer in proposing that brain exercises might be useful in treating mental illnesses. It was his belief that the brain retains plasticity from birth to death and that even seniors could improve their cognitive functioning.

Regeneration of neurons
Fernando Nottebohm 6 found that birds could learn new songs all through their lives. Joseph Altman 7 discovered that adults could create new nerve cells (neurons), but his discovery was ignored until the nineties.

At that time, Elizabeth Gould 8 proved that the brains of primates demonstrate neurogenesis, the generation of new nerve cells.

Below you find an overview of important research studies in support of neuroplasticity. 

 

Sources for this article & quotes

  1. The Principles of Psychology (1890), James, William, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-70625-0
  2. The behavioristic interpretation of consciousness (1923), Lashley, Karl, Psychological Review
  3. The Organization of Behavior (1949), Hebb, Donald, New York, Wiley & Sons
  4. Sensory Plasticity (1967), Bach-y-Rita, Paul, Acta Neurologica Scandinavica
  5. The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the frontiers of brain science (2007), Doidge, Norman, New York, Viking, ISBN 978-0-670-03830-5
  6. Relationship between song repertoire and age in the canary (1978), Nottebohm, Fernando, Serinus canarius. Z. Tierpsychologie. 46, pp. 298 – 305
  7. Postnatal Neurogenesis in the Guinea-pig (1967), Altman, Joseph, Nature, 214, pp. 1098 – 1101
  8. Neurogenesis in the Neocortex of Adult Primates (1999), Elizabeth Gould, Science, Vol. 286. no. 5439, pp. 548 – 52