Functional selectivity for face processing in the temporal voice area of early deaf individuals

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Aug 1;114(31):E6437-E6446. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1618287114. Epub 2017 Jun 26.


Brain systems supporting face and voice processing both contribute to the extraction of important information for social interaction (e.g., person identity). How does the brain reorganize when one of these channels is absent? Here, we explore this question by combining behavioral and multimodal neuroimaging measures (magneto-encephalography and functional imaging) in a group of early deaf humans. We show enhanced selective neural response for faces and for individual face coding in a specific region of the auditory cortex that is typically specialized for voice perception in hearing individuals. In this region, selectivity to face signals emerges early in the visual processing hierarchy, shortly after typical face-selective responses in the ventral visual pathway. Functional and effective connectivity analyses suggest reorganization in long-range connections from early visual areas to the face-selective temporal area in individuals with early and profound deafness. Altogether, these observations demonstrate that regions that typically specialize for voice processing in the hearing brain preferentially reorganize for face processing in born-deaf people. Our results support the idea that cross-modal plasticity in the case of early sensory deprivation relates to the original functional specialization of the reorganized brain regions.

Keywords: cross-modal plasticity; deafness; identity processing; modularity; ventral stream.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Deafness / physiopathology*
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Sensory Deprivation / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology