Neural plasticity is considered the neurophysiological correlate of learning and memory, although several studies have also noted that it plays crucial roles in a number of neurological and psychiatric diseases. Indeed, impaired brain plasticity may be one of the pathophysiological mechanisms that underlies both cognitive decline and major depression. Moreover, a degree of cognitive impairment is frequently observed throughout the clinical spectrum of mood disorders, and the relationship between depression and cognition is often bidirectional. However, most evidence for dysfunctional neural plasticity in depression has been indirect. Transcranial magnetic stimulation has emerged as a noninvasive tool for investigating several parameters of cortical excitability with the aim of exploring the functions of different neurotransmission pathways and for probing in vivo plasticity in both healthy humans and those with pathological conditions. In particular, depressed patients exhibit a significant interhemispheric difference in motor cortex excitability, an imbalanced inhibitory or excitatory intracortical neurochemical circuitry, reduced postexercise facilitation, and an impaired long-term potentiation-like response to paired-associative transcranial magnetic stimulation, and these symptoms may indicate disrupted plasticity. Research aimed at disentangling the mechanism by which neuroplasticity plays a role in the pathological processes that lead to depression and evaluating the effects of modulating neuroplasticity are needed for the field to facilitate more powerful translational research studies and identify novel therapeutic targets.
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