Structural brain plasticity induced by early blindness

Eur J Neurosci. 2021 Feb;53(3):778-795. doi: 10.1111/ejn.15028. Epub 2020 Nov 21.


It is well established that early blindness results in behavioural adaptations. While the functional effects of visual deprivation have been well researched, anatomical studies are scarce. The aim of this study was to investigate whole brain structural plasticity in a mouse model of congenital blindness. Volumetric analyses were conducted on high-resolution MRI images and histological sections from the same brains. These morphometric measurements were compared between anophthalmic and sighted ZRDBA mice obtained by breeding ZRDCT and DBA mice. Results from MRI analyses using the Multiple Automatically Generated Templates (MAGeT) method showed smaller volume for the primary visual cortex and superior colliculi in anophthalmic compared with sighted mice. Deformation-based morphometry revealed smaller volumes within the dorsal lateral geniculate nuclei and the lateral secondary visual cortex and larger volumes within olfactory areas, piriform cortex, orbital areas and the amygdala, in anophthalmic compared with sighted mice. Histological analyses revealed a larger volume for the amygdala and smaller volume for the superior colliculi, primary visual cortex and medial secondary visual cortex, in anophthalmic compared with sighted mice. The absence of superficial visual layers of the superior colliculus and the thinner cortical layer IV of the primary and secondary visual cortices may explain the smaller volume of these areas, although this was observed in a limited sample. The present study shows large-scale brain plasticity in a mouse model of congenital blindness. In addition, the congruence of MRI and histological findings support the use of MRI to investigate structural brain plasticity in the mouse.

Keywords: MRI; anophthalmic; blind; morphometry; visual.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blindness / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Geniculate Bodies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Visual Cortex* / diagnostic imaging