From cortical plasticity to unawareness of visual field defects

J Neuroophthalmol. 1999 Jun;19(2):84-8.


It was long held that, following alterations in sensory input, structural changes in the primary visual cortex take place only in early life, during so-called "critical periods." Recently, however, it has been established that, in adults, cortical maps in the brain are not fixed, and the cortex does not perform stereotyped operations. Instead, neuronal receptive fields in the cortex can reorganize following deactivation or an altered pattern of activation. Plasticity is essential for the normal adjustment of the brain to modifications in the sensory environment, and for improving perceptual skills and sensorimotor performances. It also plays a crucial role in recovery from damage to the visual system. Cortical remapping generates a filling-in of visual field defects. Consequently, it alters the image perceived. Cortical rearrangement following lesions in the visual pathways does not restore function to the destroyed tissue, but it helps to compensate for gaps in perception. In this review article, we focus on effects of plasticity in the adult visual cortex which are of major importance in the daily practice of neuroophthalmology. Cortical reorganization, together with resulting filling-in, affects the early recognition and evaluation of visual field defects. The importance of brain remapping in these matters is still largely underestimated by clinicians.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Scotoma / physiopathology
  • Visual Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology