Increased Right Posterior STS Recruitment Without Enhanced Directional-Tuning During Tactile Motion Processing in Early Deaf Individuals

Front Neurosci. 2020 Aug 25;14:864. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.00864. eCollection 2020.


Upon early sensory deprivation, the remaining modalities often exhibit cross-modal reorganization, such as primary auditory cortex (PAC) recruitment for visual motion processing in early deafness (ED). Previous studies of compensatory plasticity in ED individuals have given less attention to tactile motion processing. In the current study, we aimed to examine the effects of early auditory deprivation on tactile motion processing. We simulated four directions of tactile motion on each participant's right index finger and characterized their tactile motion responses and directional-tuning profiles using population receptive field analysis. Similar tactile motion responses were found within primary (SI) and secondary (SII) somatosensory cortices between ED and hearing control groups, whereas ED individuals showed a reduced proportion of voxels with directionally tuned responses in SI contralateral to stimulation. There were also significant but minimal responses to tactile motion within PAC for both groups. While early deaf individuals show significantly larger recruitment of right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) region upon tactile motion stimulation, there was no evidence of enhanced directional tuning. Greater recruitment of right pSTS region is consistent with prior studies reporting reorganization of multimodal areas due to sensory deprivation. The absence of increased directional tuning within the right pSTS region may suggest a more distributed population of neurons dedicated to processing tactile spatial information as a consequence of early auditory deprivation.

Keywords: auditory cortex; cross-modal plasticity; early deafness; superior temporal sulcus; tactile motion.