Mind the blind brain to understand the sighted one! Is there a supramodal cortical functional architecture?

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014 Apr;41:64-77. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.10.006. Epub 2013 Oct 21.


While most of the research in blind individuals classically has focused on the compensatory plastic rearrangements that follow loss of sight, novel behavioral, anatomical and functional brain studies in individuals born deprived of sight represent a powerful tool to understand to what extent the brain functional architecture is programmed to develop independently from any visual experience. Here we review work from our lab and others, conducted in sighted and congenitally blind individuals, whose results indicate that vision is not a mandatory prerequisite for the brain cortical organization to develop and function. Similar cortical networks subtend visual and/or non-visual perception of form, space and movement, as well as action recognition, both in sighted and in congenitally blind individuals. These findings support the hypothesis of a modality independent, supramodal cortical organization. Visual experience, however, does play a role in shaping specific cortical sub-regions, as loss of sight is accompanied also by cross-modal plastic phenomena. Altogether, studying the blind brain is opening our eyes on how the brain develops and works.

Keywords: Action recognition; Blindness; Brain functional architecture; Brain imaging; Cross-modal plasticity; Mental representation; Supramodality.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blindness / physiopathology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Perception / physiology*