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The Occipital Cortex in the Blind: Lessons About Plasticity and Vision

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Studying the brains of blind individuals provides a unique opportunity to investigate how the brain changes and adapts in response to afferent (input) and efferent (output) demands. We discuss evidence suggesting that regions of the brain normally associated with the processing of visual information undergo remarkable dynamic change in response to blindness. These neuroplastic changes implicate not only processing carried out by the remaining senses but also higher cognitive functions such as language and memory. A strong emphasis is placed on evidence obtained from advanced neuroimaging techniques that allow researchers to identify areas of human brain activity, as well as from lesion approaches (both reversible and irreversible) to address the functional relevance and role of these activated areas. A possible mechanism and conceptual framework for these physiological and behavioral changes is proposed.

Keywords: Braille reading; blindness; plasticity; verbal memory; visual cortex

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Publication date: 2005-12-01

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