Brain plasticity can be conceptualized as nature’s invention to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. As such, plasticity is an intrinsic property of the brain – however, mechanisms of plasticity may vary and change with age and circumstance. An important question we ask at the Berenson-Allen center is how does the brain change across varied situations and how is this change reflected in overall network dynamics?
Visual Neural Networks
Over the last three decades we have explored vision in a variety of ways. One way we explore this important and dynamic sense is via blindness. Several of our studies have examined the visual cortices of the congenitally blind whilst others have simulated blindness in healthy subjects to examine and track plastic changes.
The default network is a group of brain regions active when a person is in a state of wakeful rest. Thought to correspond to personal introspection, aberrant function of the default network has been implicated in a number of disorders, including autism, Alzheimer's, and schizophrenia. Several of our studies are exploring whether or not brain stimulation can be used to modulate this default network with potential therapeutic implications.
Measures of Plasticity
Various TMS protocols can mimic and track plastic events within the brain. For instance, a relatively new TMS pattern called Theta-Burst Stimulation can transiently change neural firing patterns in ways which can be externally measured, either via electrophysiological or electromyographical recording. Differential response to Theta-Burst, either across age-groups or disease states, may reveal abnormal neural plasticity and aid in our understanding of the evolving brain.
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