Activation of the primary visual cortex by Braille reading in blind subjects

Nature. 1996 Apr 11;380(6574):526-8. doi: 10.1038/380526a0.


Primary visual cortex receives visual input from the eyes through the lateral geniculate nuclei, but is not known to receive input from other sensory modalities. Its level of activity, both at rest and during auditory or tactile tasks, is higher in blind subjects than in normal controls, suggesting that it can subserve nonvisual functions; however, a direct effect of non-visual tasks on activation has not been demonstrated. To determine whether the visual cortex receives input from the somatosensory system we used positron emission tomography (PET) to measure activation during tactile discrimination tasks in normal subjects and in Braille readers blinded in early life. Blind subjects showed activation of primary and secondary visual cortical areas during tactile tasks, whereas normal controls showed deactivation. A simple tactile stimulus that did not require discrimination produced no activation of visual areas in either group. Thus in blind subjects, cortical areas normally reserved for vision may be activated by other sensory modalities.

MeSH terms

  • Blindness / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Communication Aids for Disabled
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Reading*
  • Sensory Aids*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed
  • Touch / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiopathology