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In this episode we have the important job of working out what neuroplasticity is all about. 50 years ago we thought the adult brain remained the same after reaching maturity. Now, since the discovery that in fact our neural networks remain ‘plastic’, which means adaptable, a host of research has opened up fuelled by our desire to thrive and improve rather than just survive. Along with that knowledge, as so often with popular science, has come a host of exaggerations and quick fix claims, that prey on the wishful thinker; and today we’re aiming to sort the facts form the fiction and really understand what can change in our neural networks in adulthood and perhaps even offer some tools to facilitate that.

Who better to discuss this with than developmental neurobiologist turned freelance science writer Moheb Costandi. He writes stories and articles for various popular publications like New Scientist and the Guardian, is often cited from his Neurophilosophy blog, and is the author of the books Neuroplasticity and 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need to Know.

Things we discuss in this episode:

00:00 A good psychology teacher

04:30 The controversial history of neuroplasticity

11:46 Longterm potentiation (LTP)

12:41 Stem Cells and the tipping point for neuroplasticity

14:47 What’s the significance of neuro-genesis?

16:00 What actually happens when neurons adapt?

18:00 Electro-chemical neurocommunication at high speed

22:00 Are there neurons all over the body?

23:30 The gut’s enteric nervous system (ENS)

25:00 Calling out spurious false rumours about neuroplasticity

31:40 ‘Awareness of plasticity doesn’t empower us in any way’

33:00 The wellness, self help and new age industries may have manipulated neuroplasticity to exploit the public

37:05 Can we use plasticity to reprogram negative habits? 

40:30 The bidirectional link between brain and behaviour

44:00 The longer we have a particular behaviour the stronger those pathways become

47:00 Stress hormones stimulate plasticity. Negative emotions encode memories more strongly.

50:00 Microglia: the brain’s immune cells 

53:00 Plasticity even in white matter tracts of myelin 

55.00 Mitigating age-related cognitive decline using plasticity 

01:01:00 Learning a musical instrument or new language in old age can help avoid dementia 

1:05:00 Are there any limits to how plastic the mind can be?

1:12:00 Are brain computer-interfaces going to cause a plastic adaptation in the brain?

1:16:00 Technology could cause a lowering of brain function rather than a bionic super race



‘Neuroplasticity’ by Moheb Costandi

’Neurophilosophy’ Mo’s blog

Charles Darwin - Dissent of Man

Santiago Ramone Cahall and Camill Gogi - Nobel prize

The Raticularists


Longterm Potentiation (LTP)

Microglia: the brain’s immune cells