To what extent does functional brain organization rely on sensory input? Here, we show that for the penultimate visual-processing region, ventral-temporal cortex (VTC), visual experience is not the origin of its fundamental organizational property, category selectivity. In the fMRI study reported here, we presented 14 congenitally blind participants with face-, body-, scene-, and object-related natural sounds and presented 20 healthy controls with both auditory and visual stimuli from these categories. Using macroanatomical alignment, response mapping, and surface-based multivoxel pattern analysis, we demonstrated that VTC in blind individuals shows robust discriminatory responses elicited by the four categories and that these patterns of activity in blind subjects could successfully predict the visual categories in sighted controls. These findings were confirmed in a subset of blind participants born without eyes and thus deprived from all light perception since conception. The sounds also could be decoded in primary visual and primary auditory cortex, but these regions did not sustain generalization across modalities. Surprisingly, although not as strong as visual responses, selectivity for auditory stimulation in visual cortex was stronger in blind individuals than in controls. The opposite was observed in primary auditory cortex. Overall, we demonstrated a striking similarity in the cortical response layout of VTC in blind individuals and sighted controls, demonstrating that the overall category-selective map in extrastriate cortex develops independently from visual experience.
Keywords: blindness; category perception; functional MRI; pattern analysis; ventral-temporal cortex.