In vivo evidence for neuroplasticity in older adults

Fábio Henrique de Gobbi Porto, Anne Murphy Fox, Erich S. Tusch, Farzaneh Sorond, Abdul H. Mohammed, Kirk R. Daffner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Neuroplasticity can be conceptualized as an intrinsic property of the brain that enables modification of function and structure in response to environmental demands. Neuroplastic strengthening of synapses is believed to serve as a critical mechanism underlying learning, memory, and other cognitive functions. Ex vivo work investigating neuroplasticity has been done on hippocampal slices using high frequency stimulation. However, in vivo neuroplasticity in humans has been difficult to demonstrate. Recently, a long-term potentiation-like phenomenon, a form of neuroplastic change, was identified in young adults by differences in visual evoked potentials (VEPs) that were measured before and after tetanic visual stimulation (TVS). The current study investigated whether neuroplastic changes in the visual pathway can persist in older adults. Seventeen healthy subjects, 65 years and older, were recruited from the community. Subjects had a mean age of 77.4 years, mean education of 17 years, mean MMSE of 29.1, and demonstrated normal performance on neuropsychological tests. 1. Hz checkerboard stimulation, presented randomly to the right or left visual hemi-field, was followed by 2. min of 9. Hz stimulation (TVS) to one hemi-field. After 2. min of rest, 1. Hz stimulation was repeated. Temporospatial principal component analysis was used to identify the N1b component of the VEPs, at lateral occipital locations, in response to 1. Hz stimulation pre- and post-TVS. Results showed that the amplitude of factors representing the early and late N1b component was substantially larger after tetanic stimulation. These findings indicate that high frequency visual stimulation can enhance the N1b in cognitively high functioning old adults, suggesting that neuroplastic changes in visual pathways can continue into late life. Future studies are needed to determine the extent to which this marker of neuroplasticity is sustained over a longer period of time, and is influenced by age, cognitive status, and neurodegenerative disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-61
Number of pages6
JournalBrain Research Bulletin
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • Neuroplasticity
  • Normal cognitive aging
  • Tetanic visual
  • Visual evoked potentials (VEPs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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