Repeated measurements of contrast sensitivity reveal limits to visual plasticity after early binocular deprivation in humans
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Contrast sensitivity improves in visually normal children until 7 years of age and is impaired in children who experienced early visual deprivation from bilateral congenital cataracts. Here, we investigated whether the deficits after early visual deprivation change during childhood by retesting the contrast sensitivity of seven patients treated for bilateral congenital cataract who had been first tested before 7.5 years of age, and of two patients first tested after 11 years of age. For the younger group, contrast sensitivity at low spatial frequencies improved after 1- and 2-year intervals, while their sensitivity at mid and high spatial frequencies did not change. There was no systematic change in the two older patients. The results indicate that early visual input sets up the neural substrate for later improvement in contrast sensitivity at mid and high spatial frequencies. However, there is sufficient plasticity during middle childhood to allow some recovery at low spatial frequencies. The results shed new light on the role of early visual experience and the nature of developmental plasticity.
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