What can the spinal cord teach us about learning and memory?.

TitleWhat can the spinal cord teach us about learning and memory?.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsWolpaw, J
JournalThe Neuroscientist : a review journal bringing neurobiology, neurology and psychiatry
Date Published10/2010
KeywordsSpinal Cord

The work of recent decades has shown that the nervous system changes continually throughout life. Activity-dependent central nervous system (CNS) plasticity has many different mechanisms and involves essentially every region, from the cortex to the spinal cord. This new knowledge radically changes the challenge of explaining learning and memory and greatly increases the relevance of the spinal cord. The challenge is now to explain how continual and ubiquitous plasticity accounts for the initial acquisition and subsequent stability of many different learned behaviors. The spinal cord has a key role because it is the final common pathway for all behavior and is a site of substantial plasticity. Furthermore, because it is simple, accessible, distant from the rest of the CNS, and directly connected to behavior, the spinal cord is uniquely suited for identifying sites and mechanisms of plasticity and for determining how they account for behavioral change. Experimental models based on spinal cord reflexes facilitate study of the gradual plasticity that makes possible most rapid learning phenomena. These models reveal principles and generate concepts that are likely to apply to learning and memory throughout the CNS. In addition, they offer new approaches to guiding activity-dependent plasticity so as to restore functions lost to injury or disease.


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