Cerebral plasticity, which is the dynamic potential of the brain to reorganize itself during ontogeny, learning, or following damage, has been widely studied in the last decade, in vitro, in animals, and also in humans since the development of functional neuroimaging. In the first part of this review, the main hypotheses about the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying plasticity are presented. At a microscopic level, modulations of synaptic efficacy, unmasking of latent connections, phenotypic modifications and neurogenesis have been identified. At a macroscopic level, diaschisis, functional redundancies, sensory substitution and morphological changes have been described. In the second part, the behavioral consequences of such cerebral phenomena in physiology, namely the "natural" plasticity, are analyzed in humans. The review concludes on the therapeutic implications provided by a better understanding of these mechanisms of brain reshaping. Indeed, this plastic potential might be 'guided' in neurological diseases, using rehabilitation, pharmacological drugs, transcranial magnetic stimulation, neurosurgical methods, and even new techniques of brain-computer interface - in order to improve the quality of life of patients with damaged nervous systems. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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