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Ann Neurol. 1999 Apr;45(4):451-60.

Period of susceptibility for cross-modal plasticity in the blind.

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Human Cortical Physiology Section, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1430, USA.


Cross-modal plasticity in blind subjects contributes to sensory compensation when vision is lost early in life, but it is not known if it does so when visual loss occurs at an older age. We used H2(15)O positron emission tomography to identify cerebral regions activated in association with Braille reading, and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation to induce focal transient disruption of function during Braille reading, in 8 subjects who became blind after age 14 years (late-onset blind), after a lengthy period of normal vision. Results were compared with those previously reported obtained from congenitally and early-onset blind subjects. As shown by H2(15)O positron emission tomographic scanning, the occipital cortex was strongly activated in the congenitally blind and early-onset blind groups but not in the late-onset blind group. Occipital repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation disrupted the Braille reading task in congenitally blind and early-onset blind subjects but not in late-onset blind subjects. These results indicate that the susceptible period for this form of functionally relevant cross-modal plasticity does not extend beyond 14 years.

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