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Brain. 1998 Jul;121 ( Pt 7):1213-29.

Neural networks for Braille reading by the blind.

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  • 1Human Motor Control Section, Medical Neurology Branch, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1428, USA.


To explore the neural networks used for Braille reading, we measured regional cerebral blood flow with PET during tactile tasks performed both by Braille readers blinded early in life and by sighted subjects. Eight proficient Braille readers were studied during Braille reading with both right and left index fingers. Eight-character, non-contracted Braille-letter strings were used, and subjects were asked to discriminate between words and non-words. To compare the behaviour of the brain of the blind and the sighted directly, non-Braille tactile tasks were performed by six different blind subjects and 10 sighted control subjects using the right index finger. The tasks included a non-discrimination task and three discrimination tasks (angle, width and character). Irrespective of reading finger (right or left), Braille reading by the blind activated the inferior parietal lobule, primary visual cortex, superior occipital gyri, fusiform gyri, ventral premotor area, superior parietal lobule, cerebellum and primary sensorimotor area bilaterally, also the right dorsal premotor cortex, right middle occipital gyrus and right prefrontal area. During non-Braille discrimination tasks, in blind subjects, the ventral occipital regions, including the primary visual cortex and fusiform gyri bilaterally were activated while the secondary somatosensory area was deactivated. The reverse pattern was found in sighted subjects where the secondary somatosensory area was activated while the ventral occipital regions were suppressed. These findings suggest that the tactile processing pathways usually linked in the secondary somatosensory area are rerouted in blind subjects to the ventral occipital cortical regions originally reserved for visual shape discrimination.

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