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> Brain growth?, Do our brains actually grow physically?
Alek2244
post Apr 16, 2012, 09:27 PM
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I know the brain can actually grow when learning complicated new tasks such as playing a musical instrument or juggling. Is this growth actually physical growth that causes the brain to expand or what? If so will this cause the skull to grow as well if the brain continues to enlarge with the mastering of difficult exercises? Is the growth in the brain, if physical, that significant? Just wondering. I am uneducated in the neurological area but really interested. I thought a good place to ask this question was a brain forum. Please help.
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NormalAnomaly
post Jun 05, 2012, 08:17 AM
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The brain may grow, and to such extent that as you said is noticeable and visible (through testing). However not so much that the skull actually expands. It has been shown, for example, that the cortical areas responsible for thumb movement are noticeably larger in people who play the violin, as for your example.

A test conducted on London taxi drivers has shown certain areas in the hippocampus (an important region deep inside the brain), which are responsible for orientation, are larger and display more activity than they usually do in people who are not taxi drivers.

So these examples as well as many others show us that our brain has the potential to grow in conjunction with learning and conducting various types of tasks (mental, motor, etc.). However when we discuss aspects of learning and memory, it is not suffice to discuss mere growth, but we must also discuss change.

A decade and more of experiments has shown various processes in the CNS, which cause changes in synaptic connections in various locations. These processes are known as Long Term Potentiation (LTP) and Long Term Depression (LTD).

In the process of LTP a synapse (the point where 2 neurons communicate with one another) may become 'stronger' in that the presynaptic neuron (the neuron which delivers the message, i.e. the electrical pulse) can more easily activate the postsynaptic neuron (the neuron which receives the message). It may also occur that new synapses are created, which further empowers the neuronal communication in that junction.

The process of LTD is complimentary to LTP in that it does the exact opposite - it weakens connections between neurons. Why is this complimentary process necessary, one might ask. Like many of the processes seen in nature and in the human body specifically, balance (homeostasis) must be maintained at all times. It is clear that had there not been LTD, brain cells would eventually die of over-activity, or otherwise shut down completely.

So we see now that memory and learning are analogous to the physical process of LTP and LTD in that when you learn something new, networks of neurons in your brain change by becoming stronger in some areas, weaker in others, etc. It is now commonly accepted that LTP and LTD occur potentially in every brain cell.

I hope this post has given you some basic understanding, and assisted in answering the important question you asked.

Kind Regards,
NormalAnomaly
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