Continuous Connectivity Helps with the Brain's Neuroplasticity

Dr. Van Wedeen explains that unlike a telephone switchboard where each wire is unique with no relation to the wires around it, wires or areas in the brain have similar jobs or functions to their neighboring areas, making neuroplasticity possible.

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The connectivity is continuous. What that means is that wires have neighboring wires that do much the same job. Areas in the brain have neighboring areas of the brain that do much the same job. And when you have a telephone switchboard with a bird's nest of wires, the bowl of spaghetti image, each wire is unique, and it has no relationship to the wires next to it. What you have in the brain instead is a continuum, or a continua. You have a local continuum of parallel wires of similar length that do-- that connect similar regions. Now this is critical for many things that we know about the brain. For example, plasticity. So, for example, when you learn the piano, and one finds that the areas of the brain that covers fine motor coordination expands into neighboring areas. Now how does that work? It's not exactly re-wiring. What's happening is those neighboring areas already had a latent connectivity and functional capacity that was similar to that in the area which notionally expanded. And so now, that functional capacity is being delegated to surrounding zones.
Posted on BrainLine March 18, 2013.

Produced by Brian King, Vicky Youcha, and Lara Collins, BrainLine.

About the author: Van Wedeen. MD

Van Wedeen, MD is associate professor in Radiology at Harvard Medical School, assistant neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and director of Connectomics at Martinos Center, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital.

Van Wedeen