Impact of blindness onset on the representation of sound categories in occipital and temporal cortices

Elife. 2022 Sep 7;11:e79370. doi: 10.7554/eLife.79370.


The ventral occipito-temporal cortex (VOTC) reliably encodes auditory categories in people born blind using a representational structure partially similar to the one found in vision (Mattioni et al.,2020). Here, using a combination of uni- and multivoxel analyses applied to fMRI data, we extend our previous findings, comprehensively investigating how early and late acquired blindness impact on the cortical regions coding for the deprived and the remaining senses. First, we show enhanced univariate response to sounds in part of the occipital cortex of both blind groups that is concomitant to reduced auditory responses in temporal regions. We then reveal that the representation of the sound categories in the occipital and temporal regions is more similar in blind subjects compared to sighted subjects. What could drive this enhanced similarity? The multivoxel encoding of the 'human voice' category that we observed in the temporal cortex of all sighted and blind groups is enhanced in occipital regions in blind groups , suggesting that the representation of vocal information is more similar between the occipital and temporal regions in blind compared to sighted individuals. We additionally show that blindness does not affect the encoding of the acoustic properties of our sounds (e.g. pitch, harmonicity) in occipital and in temporal regions but instead selectively alter the categorical coding of the voice category itself. These results suggest a functionally congruent interplay between the reorganization of occipital and temporal regions following visual deprivation, across the lifespan.

Keywords: audition; categories; crossmodal plasticity; early blindness; fMRI multivariate analyses; human; intramodal plasticity; late blindness; neuroscience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Blindness*
  • Humans
  • Occipital Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology
  • Sound
  • Temporal Lobe* / diagnostic imaging
  • Temporal Lobe* / physiology

Grant support

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.