What Is Neuroplasticity?


Quick Answer

The term neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to reorganize itself by continually forming new neural pathways throughout a person's life. Neuroplasticity plays a primary role in helping the brain overcome injuries, learn new information and adapt to situational and environmental changes.

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Full Answer

The word neuroplasticity comes from the root words neuron and plastic. Neurons are the nerve cells in the brain that are made up of an axon and dendrites, with each neuron being linked together by a nerve ending known as a synapse. The word plasticity refers to the ability of an object to be molded or modified.

In order to create these new pathways, the brain uses a process known as axonal sprouting, in which an undamaged neural axon can grow new nerve endings to reconnect with previously damaged neurons. Axonal sprouting also establishes new connections between neurons to allow the brain to accomplish new functions. However, in order for these new connections to properly establish themselves, the undamaged neurons must first receive stimulation through brain activity.

Although most neuroplasticity results in positive changes, it can also lead to problems. For instance, tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is often caused by improper neural restructuring in deaf people.

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