Animal studies show that the adult brain shows remarkable plasticity in response to learning or recovery from injury. Non-invasive brain imaging techniques can be used to detect systems-level structural and functional plasticity in the human brain. This talk will focus on how brain imaging has allowed us to monitor healthy brains learning new motor skills, to assess how brains recover after damage, such as stroke, and how they adapt to change, such as limb amputation.
Although imaging is useful to detect such adaptations, many brain imaging measures are non-specific and do not allow us to pinpoint the underlying cellular changes that are driving observed effects. The talk will also discuss studies in animal models in which both imaging and histological approaches can be used to shed light on the underlying biological drivers for structural plasticity detected using MRI.
Finally, the talk will discuss how brain stimulation can be used to manipulate brain remodelling. For example, using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the motor cortex we can speed people’s learning of a new task, alter their brain chemistry, or improve function in stroke patients. FMRI identifies changes in cortical activity that may mediate these functional benefits. In future, imaging could be used to guide individually targeted brain stimulation to enhance adaptive brain plasticity.