Neuroplasticity and psychiatry
Objective: There is increasing concern that the course of psychiatric disorders may be affected by parameters such as the duration and intensity of symptoms of initial episodes of illness. As this indicates that abnormal function produces long-term changes within the brain, a review of the neuroscience literature regarding neuroplasticity is warranted. Method: This article is a selective review, focusing in particular on results obtained from physiological experiments assessing plasticity within the mammalian neocortex. The possible relevance of results to psychiatry is discussed. Results: While the most dramatic examples of neuroplasticity occur during a critical period of neural development, neuroplasticity can also occur in adult neocortex. Neuroplasticity appears to be activity-dependent: synaptic pathways that are intensively used may become strengthened, and conversely, there may be depression of transmission in infrequently used pathways. Conclusions: Results from neurophysiological experiments lend support to the clinical observation that the intensity and duration of a psychiatric disorder may adversely alter its long-term course. Rapid aggressive treatment may prevent this from occurring. While pharmacotherapy may reduce the duration and severity of symptoms, it may also have an independent, as yet unknown, effect on neuroplasticity.
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