Abnormal visual experience during development alters the early stages of visual-tactile integration
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Visual experience during the critical periods in early postnatal life is necessary for the normal development of the visual system. Disruption of visual input during this period results in amblyopia, which is associated with reduced activation of the striate and extrastriate cortices. It is well known that visual input converges with other sensory signals and exerts a significant influence on cortical processing in multiple association areas. Recent work in healthy adults has also shown that task-relevant visual input can modulate neural excitability at very early stages of information processing in the primary somatosensory cortex. Here we used electroencephalography to investigate visual-tactile interactions in adults with abnormal binocular vision due to amblyopia and strabismus. Results showed three main findings. First, in comparison to a visually normal control group, participants with abnormal vision had a significantly lower amplitude of the P50 somatosensory event related potential (ERP) when visual and tactile stimuli were presented concurrently. Second, the amplitude of the P100 somatosensory ERP was significantly greater in participants with abnormal vision. These results indicate that task relevant visual input does not significantly influence the excitability of the primary somatosensory cortex, instead, the excitability of the secondary somatosensory cortex is increased. Third, participants with abnormal vision had a higher amplitude of the P1 visual ERP when a tactile stimulus was presented concurrently. Importantly, these results were not modulated by viewing condition, which indicates that the impact of amblyopia on crossmodal interactions is not simply related to the reduced visual acuity as it was evident when viewing with the unaffected eye and binocularly. These results indicate that the consequences of abnormal visual experience on neurophysiological processing extend beyond the primary and secondary visual areas to other modality-specific areas.
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