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Cereb Cortex. 2006 Nov;16(11):1653-61. Epub 2005 Dec 28.

Diffusion tensor imaging reveals white matter reorganization in early blind humans.

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  • 1Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110, USA.


Multiple functional methods including functional magnetic resonance imaging, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and positron emission tomography have shown cortical reorganization in response to blindness. We investigated microanatomical correlates of this reorganization using diffusion tensor imaging and diffusion tensor tractography (DTT). Five early blind (EB) were compared with 7 normally sighted (NS) persons. DTT showed marked geniculocalcarine tract differences between EB and NS participants. All EB participants showed evidence of atrophy of the geniculocortical tracts. Connections between visual cortex and the orbital frontal and temporal cortices were relatively preserved in the EB group. Importantly, no additional tracts were found in any EB participant. Significant alterations of average diffusivity and relative anisotropy were found in the white matter (WM) of the occipital lobe in the EB group. These observations suggest that blindness leads to a reorganization of cerebral WM and plausibly support the hypothesis that visual cortex functionality in blindness is primarily mediated by corticocortical as opposed to thalamocortical connections.

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