Over the last two decades, numerous human MRI studies of neuroplasticity have shown compelling evidence for extensive and rapid experience-induced brain plasticity in vivo. To date, most of these studies have consisted of simply detecting a difference in structural or functional images with little concern for their lack of biological specificity. Recent reviews and public debates have stressed the need for advanced imaging techniques to gain a better understanding of the nature of these differences – characterizing their extent in time and space, their underlying biological and network dynamics.
The purpose of this article is to give an overview of advanced imaging techniques for an audience of cognitive neuroscientists that can assist them in the design and interpretation of future MRI studies of neuroplasticity. The review encompasses MRI methods that probe the morphology, microstructure, function, and connectivity of the brain with improved specificity. We underline the possible physiological underpinnings of these techniques and their recent applications within the framework of learning- and experience-induced plasticity in healthy adults. Finally, we discuss the advantages of a multi-modal approach to gain a more nuanced and comprehensive description of the process of learning.