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J Integr Neurosci. 2005 Dec;4(4):479-88.

Cross-modal plasticity in early blindness.

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Ecole d'Optométrie, Université de Montréal, CP 6128, Succursale Centre-ville, Canada.


The brain shows a remarkable capacity to reorganize itself following early sensory deprivation or neonatal brain damage. Using two models of deprivation, we will show that the brain does indeed adjust to the loss of either the visual cortex (which receives most of the retinal inputs through the lateral geniculate bodies of the thalamus) or the eyes (which provide the major input to the visual cortex) through cross-modal plastic processes. Hamsters, deprived of their visual system at birth, develop novel and permanent retinal projections to the auditory thalamus. These projections form functional synapses and project to the auditory cortex. When trained on a visual discrimination task, the "rewired" hamsters perform as well as normal hamsters. Lesions of the auditory cortex produce cortical blindness. Congenitally blind human subjects, trained to discriminate the orientation of a stimulus applied to the tongue via an electrotactile device, show activation of their visual cortex, whereas trained blindfolded controls show only activation of the somatosensory cortex representing the tongue. We propose that in blind subjects, there is an unmasking of existing cortico-cortical (parieto-occipital) connections, enabling transfer of somatosensory information to visual cortex.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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