Subcortical functional reorganization due to early blindness.
Coullon GS., Jiang F., Fine I., Watkins KE., Bridge H.
Lack of visual input early in life results in occipital cortical responses to auditory and tactile stimuli. However, it remains unclear whether cross-modal plasticity also occurs in subcortical pathways. With the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, auditory responses were compared across individuals with congenital anophthalmia (absence of eyes), those with early onset (in the first few years of life) blindness, and normally sighted individuals. We find that the superior colliculus, a "visual" subcortical structure, is recruited by the auditory system in congenital and early onset blindness. Additionally, auditory subcortical responses to monaural stimuli were altered as a result of blindness. Specifically, responses in the auditory thalamus were equally strong to contralateral and ipsilateral stimulation in both groups of blind subjects, whereas sighted controls showed stronger responses to contralateral stimulation. These findings suggest that early blindness results in substantial reorganization of subcortical auditory responses.