Crossmodal plasticity in sensory loss

Prog Brain Res. 2011:191:233-49. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53752-2.00002-3.


In this review, we describe crossmodal plasticity following sensory loss in three parts, with each section focusing on one sensory system. We summarize a wide range of studies showing that sensory loss may lead, depending of the affected sensory system, to functional changes in other, primarily not affected senses, which range from heightened to lowered abilities. In the first part, the effects of blindness on mainly audition and touch are described. The latest findings on brain reorganization in blindness are reported, with a particular emphasis on imaging studies illustrating how nonvisual inputs recruit the visually deafferented occipital cortex. The second part covers crossmodal processing in deafness, with a special focus on the effects of deafness on visual processing. In the last portion of this review, we present the effects that the loss of a chemical sense have on the sensitivity of the other chemical senses, that is, smell, taste, and trigeminal chemosensation. We outline how the convergence of the chemical senses to the same central processing areas may lead to the observed reduction in sensitivity of the primarily not affected senses. Altogether, the studies reviewed herein illustrate the fascinating plasticity of the brain when coping with sensory deprivation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blindness / physiopathology
  • Blindness / rehabilitation
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Deafness / physiopathology
  • Deafness / rehabilitation
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology
  • Olfaction Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Perception / physiology
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Sensory Deprivation / physiology*
  • Taste Disorders / physiopathology
  • Taste Disorders / rehabilitation