Synaptic or neural pruning: what is it and why is it so important?

Synaptic pruning allows the brain to function more efficiently. Learn all about this fascinating process of the nervous system.

Last update: 03 March, 2022

We breathe, we walk, we work, we play with the children, we think of recipes and we execute them. These are some of the activities that we are able to carry out in our day to day life, without asking ourselves what is hidden behind everything and what makes them possible. The answer lies in synaptic or neuronal pruning.

This engineering works through the destruction of neurons. Destroy to build and strengthen? Paradoxically yes. Let’s see what it is and why it is so important.

What is synaptic or neuronal pruning?

To understand what synaptic pruning is, let’s first look at what neurons are and how they work. A neuron is understood as a type of highly specialized nerve cell, which has the function of receiving, processing and sending information through electrical and chemical impulses.

neurons are spokesmen of messages. And that is where the next concept takes place: the synapse.

the synapse refers to a brain process of contact between neurons. The sending cell sends or produces neurotransmitters that are deposited in the synaptic space and come into contact with the receiving neuron, which reacts by exciting or inhibiting its response.

Put more simply, the synapse is neural communication. Now, synaptic pruning is a process during which there is an elimination of the synaptic connections that we are not using and do not need.

In this way, it free to the brain and it helps you be more efficient. This occurs in childhood, but especially in adolescence.

It is because we are born with numerous neural connections, much higher in the first years of life compared to adulthood. However, the brain needs to improve its development and functioning.

The connection between neurons is the synapse. There the exchange of neurotransmitters occurs.

Stages of synaptic pruning

Neural pruning is done in different stages:

  • From the embryonic stage and up to 2 years of life there is a proliferation of neurons and connections. This allows the brain to adapt to the context and learn.
  • From the age of 3 synaptic pruning begins, which reorganizes the brain, strengthening those connections that are used and necessary, while eliminating those that are not.


Importance of synaptic pruning

As we already pointed out, this neuronal destruction is positive and necessary, as it allows the brain to function better. However, like a clockwork machine, the brain needs all these processes to happen at the right time. When this is not the case, disturbances occur. For example, excessive neuronal pruning is associated with schizophrenia.

However, synaptic pruning it does not happen in the same way in all brain structures. In the prefrontal cortex, synapse creation continues until about age 20.

This cortex is responsible for executive functions (such as planning and decision making) and for self-regulation and impulse control. Thus, progressively, those structures that allow better management of these functions are consolidated.

Finally, it is worth noting that none of the processes that occur at the brain level are isolated from the environment. The influence of the context that surrounds us is also key in synaptic pruning.

The stimulation that children receive at an early age allows the brain to consolidate those learnings that they are worth it, while there will be other connections that will be left out. Therefore, it is about creating an optimal environment to offer the brain different experiences.

A baby’s environment dramatically influences the development of their brain connections.


take care of the brain

From all that has been said, reinforcing that the brain is an organ with enormous potential and careful processes is almost obvious. It seems that it works autonomously, almost as if we had no interference with it. However, this is not so.

Our habits, our diet, the time we dedicate to rest and sports, as well as intellectual and leisure activities, are just some of the factors that influence the way in which the brain develops, perfects itself, grows and develops. develop.

It looks like a perfect clockwork machine, but You also need someone to wind you up. And here is where we have our role.

That is why it is important to take care of it and pay attention to it, seeking a life that balances demands with recreationavoiding prolonged situations of stress, anxiety and discomfort.

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