Facemasks and face recognition: Potential impact on synaptic plasticity

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Visual recognition of facial expression modulates our social interactions. Compelling experimental evidence indicates that face conveys plenty of information that are fundamental for humans to interact. These are encoded at neural level in specific cortical and subcortical brain regions through activity- and experience-dependent synaptic plasticity processes. The current pandemic, due to the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection, is causing relevant social and psychological detrimental effects. The institutional recommendations on physical distancing, namely social distancing and wearing of facemasks are effective in reducing the rate of viral spread. However, by impacting social interaction, facemasks might impair the neural responses to recognition of facial cues that are overall critical to our behaviors. In this survey, we briefly review the current knowledge on the neurobiological substrate of facial recognition and discuss how the lack of salient stimuli might impact the ability to retain and consolidate learning and memory phenomena underlying face recognition. Such an "abnormal" visual experience raises the intriguing possibility of a "reset" mechanism, a renewed ability of adult brain to undergo synaptic plasticity adaptations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105319
JournalNeurobiology of Disease
Volume153
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Feb 26 2021

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