Plasticity in Adults
The massive amount of connections between neurons cannot be simply inscribed in genetic code, as the former severely outnumbers the latter. Amongst others, the genome is assigned to the important task of encoding the variety of nerve cell forms and different neurotransmitters, but genes cannot specify the exact connections between individual neurons. Hence, every brain has to start as a relatively structureless, but extremely flexible network of nerve cells that has the inherent ability to “wire” itself exactly in the way in which it best adjusts to its individual environment with its unique requirements. What is more, the brain also has to remain flexible in a more mature state, that is, in adulthood, and retain its ability to change existing connections and structure as a reaction to altering environmental circumstances. It is this ability of the brain to react to changes in experience in adulthood that we are interested in in this part of the project.
There is accumulating evidence for the occurrence of such plastic changes in the adult human brain structure. So far, relatively little is known about the mechanisms underlying these observed alterations and their time course. In this project we are using different behavioral paradigms to extend the evidence on brain plasticity, with a focus on investigating the timing of plastic changes while they accompany behavioral skill acquisition.