Resting state functional connectivity in early blind humans

Front Syst Neurosci. 2014 Apr 7;8:51. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00051. eCollection 2014.


Task-based neuroimaging studies in early blind humans (EB) have demonstrated heightened visual cortex responses to non-visual paradigms. Several prior functional connectivity studies in EB have shown altered connections consistent with these task-based results. But these studies generally did not consider behavioral adaptations to lifelong blindness typically observed in EB. Enhanced cognitive abilities shown in EB include greater serial recall and attention to memory. Here, we address the question of the extent to which brain intrinsic activity in EB reflects such adaptations. We performed a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study contrasting 14 EB with 14 age/gender matched normally sighted controls (NS). A principal finding was markedly greater functional connectivity in EB between visual cortex and regions typically associated with memory and cognitive control of attention. In contrast, correlations between visual cortex and non-deprived sensory cortices were significantly lower in EB. Thus, the available data, including that obtained in prior task-based and resting state fMRI studies, as well as the present results, indicate that visual cortex in EB becomes more heavily incorporated into functional systems instantiating episodic recall and attention to non-visual events. Moreover, EB appear to show a reduction in interactions between visual and non-deprived sensory cortices, possibly reflecting suppression of inter-sensory distracting activity.

Keywords: blindness; fMRI; functional connectivity; human; visual cortex.