Cognition and Plasticity
University of Amsterdam
In the human brain, cognitive functions are organized in large-scale neural networks that strongly interact. Flexible interaction within and between different neural networks is enabled by neural plasticity, which is the key process that shapes brain function throughout life and allows for lifelong learning and adaptation.
The central aim of our research is to identify generic principles of adaptive plasticity in the neural networks underlying higher cognitive functions across the adult lifespan. We aim at elucidating the role of neural plasticity during the acquisition of novel cognitive skills, and also as an adaptive mechanism for cognitive challenges, counteracting cognitive decline, or compensating for functional loss after brain lesions. To this end, we use a multi-method approach, combining non-invasive brain stimulation (TMS, tDCS, tACS) with neuroimaging and EEG. Our key hypothesis is that neural networks underlying cognition can rapidly change the functional weight of the relative contribution of different nodes, enabling flexible compensation after disruption. For instance, after focal perturbation of a key neural region for language, recruitment of other areas within the same network, or regions from a different network, may help to maintain language processing. A better understanding of these processes will pave the way for future enhancement of plasticity and recovery after brain injury, such as stroke.