Plasticity of multisensory dorsal stream functions: evidence from congenitally blind and sighted adults

Restor Neurol Neurosci. 2010;28(2):193-205. doi: 10.3233/RNN-2010-0500.


The dorsal stream has been proposed to compute vision for space perception and for the control of action. However, perceiving space and guiding movements is not only based on vision but also on other sensory modalities such as proprioception and kinesthesia. Blind people who lost vision early in life provide an exceptional example to study the plasticity of dorsal stream functions. Using fMRI and psychophysical methods, action control and space perception was investigated in congenitally blind and sighted adults while performing active and passive hand movements without visual feedback. The functional imaging data showed largely overlapping activation patterns for kinesthetically guided hand movements in congenitally blind and sighted participants covering regions of the dorsal stream. In contrast to the sighted participants, congenitally blind participants additionally activated the extrastriate cortex and the auditory cortex. The psychophysical results revealed a significant correlation between proprioceptive spatial discrimination acuity of the blind and the age when they had attended an orientation and mobility training, i.e., an extensive non-visual spatial training. The earlier the blind acquired such a spatial training the more accurate and the more precise was their space perception in later life. Our findings suggest a multisensory network of movement control that develops on the basis of sensorimotor feedback rather than being under the exclusive control of vision. Thus, visual deprivation seems to result in both cross-modal and compensatory intra-modal plasticity. The present findings further imply that dorsal stream functions are shaped by non-visual spatial information during early development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / blood supply
  • Afferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Age Factors
  • Blindness / congenital
  • Blindness / pathology
  • Blindness / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Feedback, Sensory
  • Hand / innervation
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Movement / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Psychophysics
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology*


  • Oxygen