Auditory evoked visual awareness following sudden ocular blindness: an EEG and TMS investigation.
Rao A., Nobre AC., Alexander I., Cowey A.
Neurophysiological and neuroanatomical studies have provoked controversy about whether the visual cortex may be more modifiable than previously believed. Auditory processing is enhanced in blind compared to sighted people, and the enhancement might reflect encroachment of auditory transmission onto visual cortex. To address this issue, we recorded the auditory event-related potentials (ERPs) correlated with auditory related paradoxical visual awareness in a subject with traumatic total late-onset blindness. We found that (1) there was auditory related brain activity over the occipital visual scalp regions starting from a very early stage (< 80 ms) and (2) this occipital activity was significantly different between "visually aware" and "visually unaware" responses in the P1 (40-80 ms) component following meaningful stimuli. There was also a significant difference between responses with and without visual awareness in the N1 (100-120 ms) component following either tones or meaningful stimuli. The phosphenes accompanying auditory stimuli in the ERP experiment were always perceived to be directly in front of the subject and this was reproduced by transcranial magnetic stimulation over the blind primary visual cortex and by sudden sounds delivered to the side or behind the subject. The TMS induced phosphenes were restricted to the central part of the space and were, at least qualitatively, the same as those induced by sounds. The results are clear evidence that human perceptual functions can be reorganized after sudden, late-onset, total ocular blindness.