A number-form area in the blind

Nat Commun. 2015 Jan 23;6:6026. doi: 10.1038/ncomms7026.

Abstract

Distinct preference for visual number symbols was recently discovered in the human right inferior temporal gyrus (rITG). It remains unclear how this preference emerges, what is the contribution of shape biases to its formation and whether visual processing underlies it. Here we use congenital blindness as a model for brain development without visual experience. During fMRI, we present blind subjects with shapes encoded using a novel visual-to-music sensory-substitution device (The EyeMusic). Greater activation is observed in the rITG when subjects process symbols as numbers compared with control tasks on the same symbols. Using resting-state fMRI in the blind and sighted, we further show that the areas with preference for numerals and letters exhibit distinct patterns of functional connectivity with quantity and language-processing areas, respectively. Our findings suggest that specificity in the ventral 'visual' stream can emerge independently of sensory modality and visual experience, under the influence of distinct connectivity patterns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior
  • Blindness / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Music
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Vision, Ocular
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult