Neural plasticity and neurorehabilitation: Teaching the new brain old tricks
Following brain injury or disease there are widespread biochemical, anatomical and physiological changes that result in what might be considered a new, very different brain. This adapted brain is forced to reacquire behaviors lost as a result of the injury or disease and relies on neural plasticity within the residual neural circuits. The same fundamental neural and behavioral signals driving plasticity during learning in the intact brain are engaged during relearning in the damaged/diseased brain. The field of neurorehabilitation is now beginning to capitalize on this body of work to develop neurobiologically informed therapies focused on key behavioral and neural signals driving neural plasticity. Further, how neural plasticity may act to drive different neural strategies underlying functional improvement after brain injury is being revealed. The understanding of the relationship between these different neural strategies, mechanisms of neural plasticity, and changes in behavior may facilitate the development of novel, more effective rehabilitation interventions for treating brain injury and disease. LEARNING OUTCOMES: Readers will be able to: (a) define neural plasticity, (b) understand how learning in the intact and damaged brain can drive neural plasticity, (c) identify the three basic neural strategies mediating functional improvement, and (d) understand how adjuvant therapies have the potential to upregulate plasticity and enhance functional recovery.
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