Current research in brain development and learning

Several scientific studies [5] [6] [7] indicate that many neurons are activated and modified in learning and memory development and that these interactions between neurons can occur between different portions of the neurons. The neuron usually consists of the main portion, called “cell body (or soma)”, and two ends, the end containing a longer or shorter cellular extension, called “axon”, and an end containing smaller cellular extensions, called the “dendritic spines”. Synapses can occur between all of these cellular portions but in learning, the major part of the changes first affect synapses of the dendritic spines and then involve the other types of synapses. In this way, concepts, reasoning, and definitions are reinforced or lost, and at the same time, the ability to concentrate and pay attention is modified. Meditation itself can act on these circuits and can therefore play a role in strengthening your attention and awareness. [9] [10] [11]

The continuous remodeling of neural circuits is the basis of the development of the child’s brain, and it may also be the key to improve learning or attention disorders, such as autism or ADHD. In autism spectrum disorders, mutated genes alter the connectivity of the neural network and as a result, responses to precise stimuli are different from those of children who are considered normal.

Studies have created experiences that can restore normal connectivity and improve social orientations in ASD, by strengthening processes of elaboration and memorization. [4] Training programs have also worked with experience-based neuroplasticity in children with ADHD, compensating for the deficiencies present physically and improving school outcomes. [8]

Working with STRESS AND REHABILITATION

Stress, either physical or mental, makes neural connections slower and less efficient, making your response to a question or movement cue different depending on whether you’re feeling calm or stressed. It’s been shown that children, in particular, cannot learn when under stress or traumatized.

As we live with so much ambient stress these days, it’s important to be pro-active in training your body and helping children to train their bodies to be calm.  It’s doubly important to know how to activate your relaxation responses, and how to undo the damage that stress has tolled on your body and mind.

Working under stress is a skill that can be acquired by repeating the context over time and learning from the mistakes. Mistakes that are made in a voluntary movement (as in the case of a pirouette jump), and corrections of the same, strengthen neural circuits that control the motor pattern of the movement itself, thus leading to better motor control the next time you make that movement.

Similarly, following an ischemic brain injury (a stroke) it is possible to recover optimal motor control in terms of both speech and movement. The cerebellum regulates the coordination of voluntary movements and presents a high degree of synaptic plasticity, which is at the basis of improved motor control. Through rehabilitation exercises or speech therapy, it is possible to improve performance, and often to restore lost skills over time.[13]

References

[1]: Citri A, Malenka RC. Synaptic plasticity: multiple forms, functions, and mechanisms. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2008 Jan;33(1):18-41. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301559. Epub 2007 Aug 29. PMID: 17728696.

[2]: Butz M, Wörgötter F, van Ooyen A. Activity-dependent structural plasticity. Brain Res Rev. 2009 May;60(2):287-305. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresrev.2008.12.023. Epub 2009 Jan 6. PMID: 19162072.

[3]: Ganguly K, Poo MM. Activity-dependent neural plasticity from bench to bedside. Neuron. 2013 Oct 30;80(3):729-41. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.10.028. PMID: 24183023.

[4]: Ebert DH, Greenberg ME. Activity-dependent neuronal signalling and autism spectrum disorder. Nature. 2013;493(7432):327-337. doi:10.1038/nature11860

[5]: Rebola N, Srikumar BN, Mulle C. Activity-dependent synaptic plasticity of NMDA receptors. J Physiol. 2010 Jan 1;588(Pt 1):93-9. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2009.179382. Epub 2009 Oct 12. PMID: 19822542; PMCID: PMC2821550.

[6]: Crestani AP, Sierra RO, Machado A, Haubrich J, Scienza KM, de Oliveira Alvares L, Quillfeldt JA. Hippocampal plasticity mechanisms mediating experience-dependent learning change over time. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2018 Apr;150:56-63. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2018.02.020. Epub 2018 Mar 1. PMID: 29501525.

[7]: Sehgal M, Song C, Ehlers VL, Moyer JR Jr. Learning to learn – intrinsic plasticity as a metaplasticity mechanism for memory formation. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2013 Oct;105:186-99. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2013.07.008. Epub 2013 Jul 18. PMID: 23871744; PMCID: PMC3855019.

[8] Hoekzema E, Carmona S, Ramos-Quiroga JA, Barba E, Bielsa A, Tremols V, Rovira M, Soliva JC, Casas M, Bulbena A, Tobeña A, Vilarroya O. Training-induced neuroanatomical plasticity in ADHD: a tensor-based morphometric study. Hum Brain Mapp. 2011 Oct;32(10):1741-9. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21143. Epub 2011 Mar 1. PMID: 21365715; PMCID: PMC6870061.

[9]: Afonso RF, Kraft I, Aratanha MA, Kozasa EH. Neural correlates of meditation: a review of structural and functional MRI studies. Front Biosci (Schol Ed). 2020 Mar 1;12:92-115. PMID: 32114450.

[10]: Magan D, Yadav RK, Bal CS, Mathur R, Pandey RM. Brain Plasticity and Neurophysiological Correlates of Meditation in Long-Term Meditators: A 18Fluorodeoxyglucose Positron Emission Tomography Study Based on an Innovative Methodology. J Altern Complement Med. 2019 Dec;25(12):1172-1182. doi: 10.1089/acm.2019.0167. Epub 2019 Sep 26. PMID: 31556688.

[11]: M. B. Ospina, K. Bond, M. Karkhaneh, L. Tjosvold, B. Vandermeer, Y. Liang, L. Bialy, N. Hooton, N. Buscemi, D. M. Dryden and T. P. Klassen: Meditation practices for health: state of the research. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep)(155), 1-263 (2007)

[12]: Keller TA, Just MA. Structural and functional neuroplasticity in human learning of spatial routes. Neuroimage. 2016 Jan 15;125:256-266. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.10.015. Epub 2015 Oct 20. PMID: 26477660.

[13]: Hara Y. Brain plasticity and rehabilitation in stroke patients. J Nippon Med Sch. 2015;82(1):4-13. doi: 10.1272/jnms.82.4. PMID: 25797869.

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