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Plastic Brain
02 September 2015

Plastic Brain

By loose analogy with the epithet that an eyeball can’t see itself, human brains can’t seem to figure themselves out either. Consciousness, perception and cognition still mystify us as they mystified Ancient Greeks. Take learning, for instance. The brain has a remarkable ability to ‘rewire’, allowing us to do new things, whether it’s dancing, recovering from strokes, or even, to use our tongues for balancing, as Cheryl Schiltz did after an infection left her wobbly on her feet. While the origin of this so-called neuroplasticity is unclear, the latest news from laboratories is that it’s owed to the unique ability of the brain to ramp-up or down the production of myelin, according to need, allowing neurons to extend and reconnect. Myelin, a fatty white sheath covering neurons – shown here covering a single spiny neuron – protects and allows currents to pass without short-circuits, much like plastic sheathing on electric copper wires.

Written by Tristan Farrow

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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