Long-Lasting Crossmodal Cortical Reorganization Triggered by Brief Postnatal Visual Deprivation
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Animal and human studies have demonstrated that transient visual deprivation early in life, even for a very short period, permanently alters the response properties of neurons in the visual cortex and leads to corresponding behavioral visual deficits. While it is acknowledged that early-onset and longstanding blindness leads the occipital cortex to respond to non-visual stimulation, it remains unknown whether a short and transient period of postnatal visual deprivation is sufficient to trigger crossmodal reorganization that persists after years of visual experience. In the present study, we characterized brain responses to auditory stimuli in 11 adults who had been deprived of all patterned vision at birth by congenital cataracts in both eyes until they were treated at 9 to 238 days of age. When compared to controls with typical visual experience, the cataract-reversal group showed enhanced auditory-driven activity in focal visual regions. A combination of dynamic causal modeling with Bayesian model selection indicated that this auditory-driven activity in the occipital cortex was better explained by direct cortico-cortical connections with the primary auditory cortex than by subcortical connections. Thus, a short and transient period of visual deprivation early in life leads to enduring large-scale crossmodal reorganization of the brain circuitry typically dedicated to vision.
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