Synaptic pruning, or synaptic elimination, is an essential aspect of the development of the brain; when the brain destroys itself, removing unwanted synapses, neurons or neuronal configurations to increase efficiency of connections. The process and timing of pruning is thought to be significantly changed by the experiences, genes, and even the thoughts of the developing mind. There are a variety of theories as to the true nature of pruning.
During early childhood, there is a huge proliferation of connections between neurons, usually peaking around the age of two. The adolescent brain then cuts down the amount of connections, deciding which ones are important to keep and which can be let go. While there are various theories as to the molecular mechanisms by which pruning actually occurs, most agree that pruning is primarily carried out by a very motile form of glial cell, called microglia , and pre-programmed cell death (apoptosis). These microglia are thought to remove cellular debris and perform surveillance during the healing process of an injured brain, but in the healthy, developing brain they have a possibly more important function. If a synapse receives little activity, it is weakened and eventually deleted by microglia and other glial cells through a process called long-term depotentiation (LTD). After the synapse has been removed, the space and resources that it once used are taken by other synapses. These synapses are strengthened by long-term potentiation (LTP). These processes and various others take place throughout development, peaking at adolescence and reaching their base around the age of 21, and transform the brain to create more complex and efficient neuronal configurations.
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...culture and society in which the child is raised. This would mean that after pruning, an adult in one society no longer has the same neuronal connections as an adult in a different society - those connections have been trimmed out. Is this an underlying cause of culture shock and/or genocide? Is the developing mind more open to change and new connections then the “narrow,” developed mind? Until the scientific community has a greater understanding of synaptic pruning, these questions will remain unanswered.
Synaptic pruning is still a very vague process, barely understood by scientists, and the relatively minimal amount of research already conducted has shown that it is far more complicated than previously thought. It is a critical part of neurobiological development that has tremendous consequences on the fully developed adult.
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