In congenitally blind individuals, many regions of the brain that are typically heavily involved in visual processing are recruited for a variety of nonvisual sensory and cognitive tasks (Rauschecker 1995; Pascual-Leone et al. 2005). This phenomenon-cross-modal plasticity-has been widely documented, but the principles that determine where and how cross-modal changes occur remain poorly understood (Bavelier and Neville 2002). Here, we evaluate the hypothesis that cross-modal plasticity respects the type of computations performed by a region, even as it changes the modality of the inputs over which they are carried out (Pascual-Leone and Hamilton 2001). We compared the fMRI signal in sighted and congenitally blind participants during proprioceptively guided reaching. We show that parietooccipital reach-related regions retain their functional role-encoding of the spatial position of the reach target-even as the dominant modality in this region changes from visual to nonvisual inputs. This suggests that the computational role of a region, independently of the processing modality, codetermines its potential cross-modal recruitment. Our findings demonstrate that preservation of functional properties can serve as a guiding principle for cross-modal plasticity even in visuomotor cortical regions, i.e. beyond the early visual cortex and other traditional visual areas.
Keywords: congenital blindness; cross-modal plasticity; proprioceptively guided reaching.