The brain still has a lot to learn about itself. Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have made a key finding of the striking differences in how the brain's cells can change through experience. Their results were published online on February 3, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. The article is titled “Role of GABAA-Mediated Inhibition and Functional Assortment of Synapses onto Individual Layer 4 Neurons in Regulating Plasticity Expression in Visual Cortex.” “Neurons can undergo long-term changes in response to experience such as learning, emotions, or other activity," said Michael Friedlander, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. Dr. Friedlander co-authored the paper with his former graduate student and postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Ignacio Saez. "Neuroscientists have focused much of their attention on understanding the neuroplasticity of the connections between nerve cells called synapses," Dr. Friedlander said. Synapses, the specialized connections between neurons, work by translating an electrical signal from one neuron into a chemical signal to modify the receiving neuron. The chemical signal triggers an electrical signal in the receiving neuron, and the process continues. Synapses may become stronger or weaker by changing efficiency of the chemical communication process in response to repeated bouts of co-activation of the two interconnected neurons. This process, called synaptic plasticity, can cause changes that persist beyond the co-activation period for mere minutes through a lifetime. Outside experience can be internalized as a physical reorganization of the brain's synaptic communication process.
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