Early Blindness Shapes Cortical Representations of Auditory Frequency within Auditory Cortex

J Neurosci. 2019 Jun 26;39(26):5143-5152. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2896-18.2019. Epub 2019 Apr 22.


Early loss of vision is classically linked to large-scale cross-modal plasticity within occipital cortex. Much less is known about the effects of early blindness on auditory cortex. Here, we examine the effects of early blindness on the cortical representation of auditory frequency within human primary and secondary auditory areas using fMRI. We observe that 4 individuals with early blindness (2 females), and a group of 5 individuals with anophthalmia (1 female), a condition in which both eyes fail to develop, have lower response amplitudes and narrower voxelwise tuning bandwidths compared with a group of typically sighted individuals. These results provide some of the first evidence in human participants for compensatory plasticity within nondeprived sensory areas as a result of sensory loss.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Early blindness has been linked to enhanced perception of the auditory world, including auditory localization and pitch perception. Here we used fMRI to compare neural responses with auditory stimuli within auditory cortex across sighted, early blind, and anophthalmic individuals, in whom both eyes fail to develop. We find more refined frequency tuning in blind subjects, providing some of the first evidence in human subjects for compensation within nondeprived primary sensory areas as a result of blindness early in life.

Keywords: auditory; blindness; neural plasticity; population receptive field; visual deprivation.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Anophthalmos / diagnostic imaging*
  • Anophthalmos / physiopathology
  • Auditory Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Auditory Cortex / physiopathology
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Blindness / diagnostic imaging*
  • Blindness / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*