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The plastic brain

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Karyn Megy.

The past 40 years have seen a radical change in understanding of the brain. Although its fundamental characteristics are determined genetically, its organization is now known to be ‘plastic’ – changing in response to activity passing through neuronal networks. The best-known examples of such plasticity are in sensory areas of the cerebral cortex, during early postnatal ‘sensitive periods’. But the cortex retains other forms of plasticity throughout life. The ‘mapping’ of sensory and motor areas can change rapidly in response to changes of input, local damage and learning. And the cortex can reorganize itself on a massive scale, after stroke or after the onset of blindness. There has been progress in defining the molecular mechanisms underlying some forms of plasticity, but much remains to be learned about adult brain plasticity and whether it can be harnessed to help the brain repair itself after damage or disease.

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