25 September 2016

How your synaptic network develops

Given that all human brains, like human bodies, are remarkably similar, it is surprising that thoughts, ideas, like and dislikes can be so different.  The reason is that it is not our brain regions per se that create the difference, but rather the ways in which those regions are connected.

Each human brain consists of something in excess of 85 billion specialist cells called neurons, and each neuron will establish an average of around 15,000 connections with other cells in your body.

Amazingly, brain cells do not touch one another but instead communicate with other cells by converting the electrical impulse from within the cell to a chemical message that then passes to other cells across gaps between the cells called synapses.

These tiny gaps, around one ten-millionth of a millimetre in size, form what is known as your synaptic network.  As a result of the DNA you inherited from your parents and your lifetime experiences, it is this network of connections that makes you the person you are.  Everything you think, know and feel is as a result of the way in which this network operates.  In the words of the American neuroscientist and NYU Professor Joseph LeDoux, "You are your synapses.  They are who you are."

In order to explain how your synaptic network develops we often use the analogy of the way in which a road network develops and evolves over time, but we recently came across a brilliant video clip from a BBC series featuring the British doctor and Professor Robert Winston.  In the video clip he describes the way in which the synaptic network develops as we learn something new by drawing an analogy with crossing a deep ravine.  Have a look at the video and see what you think:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGieqH2tl8M

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