Synaptic Plasticity

  • Published1 Jul 2011
  • Reviewed1 Jul 2011
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

Two graduate students at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston created a claymation video featuring video games to illustrate how synapses (connections between nerve cells in the brain) grow stronger over time. The video earned Julia Hill and Natalia Rozas both third place and the People's Choice Award in the 2011 Brain Awareness Video Contest.



Oh yeah. 

When you’re playing a game and your scores are really lame sometimes you can’t make it through a single level but practice makes perfect and high scores reflect your many times hitting reset. So what happens in your brain to help you get trained? What makes your hands and your mind in sync? Let’s look inside. 

Neurons gonna make cells in your mind, there are 100 billion in your brain all combined. They communicate through electrical and chemical means. So many different types that help you think and move, working together when you’re in the video game groove. Ones that fire when you touch the controller, others that help you respond to prevent game over. 

These changes happen at the synapse. Wait, what’s a synapse? I’m going to tell you. 

Synapses are the way neurons talk. Gaps between cells, transmitters free flow across their block. There is sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium. When you practice your games... to the brain... activity needed to make your neurons fire and talk. 

You get an electrical signal called an action potential, calcium released means vesicles combine, and then your electrical signal is on a roll. Your signal turns electric again in the post synaptic potential and excitatory signal occurs because of simulation. 

After many plays, much firing in your brain, a signal is sent for more proteins to be made and that’s called protein synthesis. New proteins across the neuron nation strengthen synaptic connections. The neurons that fire together wire together and it takes less effort to play the game, that’s what we call learning. 

So many changes make connections grow stronger, channels make ions pump longer and longer, kinase phosphorylation keeps the signal active – the excitatory signal is so attractive. Silent receptors are inserted into the membrane, cytoskeletal proteins remodeling your cells, it’s insane! Transcription factors send a message, proteins may be produced to help synapse assemblage. 

All of these activities enhance your cells’ efficiency. Scientists are learning more every day, just like what happens every time you play. Now you’re a high score player, no longer do you see game over. The connections in your brain have grown stronger, each play gets longer and longer, synaptic plasticity!

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