Neuroanatomical Plasticity

Its Role in Organizing and Reorganizing the Central Nervous System
  • Christine Gall
  • Gwen Ivy
  • Gary Lynch


“Plasticity” is a necessary concept for any theory of brain function. The most complex products of the brain, the ongoing cognitive behaviors of the individual, are remarkable for their flexibility and their capacity for reorganization in the face of changing circumstances. Since behavior is characterized by its adaptability, it follows that the neural machinery that creates it must possess analogous features. But what, in neurobiological terms, is the property of the brain that gives it this plasticity? Suggested answers to this question have come from all the branches of the neurosciences. The idea most commonly advanced is that changes in the effectiveness of synaptic transmission are responsible for phenomena such as learning and memory. Physiological research, much of it quite recent, has shown that lasting changes can be created in monosynaptic systems by very brief trains of repetitive stimulation (Bliss and Lomo, 1973; Dunwiddie and Lynch, 1978). Neurochemical studies have indicated that some of the subcellular systems related to the transmitter and its actions are modifiable (Baudry and Lynch, 1980; Lynch et al., 1982), and this certainly provides a means through which modification in the operation of neural circuits could be achieved. This chapter deals with still another mechanism by which the brain might gain its flexibility, specifically, that it is capable of modifying its very structure. This idea, which is quite old, has become the subject of intense interest in recent years, as newer methods (and the increased use of some more traditional procedures) have allowed anatomists to develop a clearer picture of the fine structure of neural tissue. Studies in the last decade indicate that the microanatomy of the neuron, as well as its dendritic ramifications and axonal arborization can be greatly modified and that under some circumstances the brain is capable of generating entirely new circuitry.


Granule Cell Dentate Gyrus Dendritic Spine Entorhinal Cortex Molecular Layer 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine Gall
    • 1
  • Gwen Ivy
    • 2
  • Gary Lynch
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Anatomy, California College of MedicineUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and MemoryUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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