Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Some blind people 'see' with their ears, neuropsychologists show

Date:
March 17, 2011
Source:
University of Montreal
Summary:
Neuropsychologists compared the brain activity of people who can see and people who were born blind, discovering that the part of the brain that normally works with our eyes to process vision and space perception can actually rewire itself to process sound information instead.

Some blind people 'see' with their ears. The part of the brain that normally works with our eyes to process vision and space perception can actually rewire itself to process sound information instead.
Credit: iStockphoto/Eva Serrabassa

Dr. Olivier Collignon of the University of Montreal's Saint-Justine Hospital Research Centre compared the brain activity of people who can see and people who were born blind, and discovered that the part of the brain that normally works with our eyes to process vision and space perception can actually rewire itself to process sound information instead.

The research was undertaken in collaboration with Dr Franco Lepore of the Centre for Research in Neuropsychology and Cognition and was published March 15 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research builds on other studies which show that the blind have a heightened ability to process sounds as part of their space perception. "Although several studies have shown occipital regions of people who were born blind to be involved in nonvisual processing, whether the functional organization of the visual cortex observed in sighted individuals is maintained in the rewired occipital regions of the blind has only been recently investigated," Collignon said. The visual cortex, as its name would suggest, is responsible for processing sight. The right and left hemisphere of the brain have one each. They are located at the back of the brain, which is called the occipital lobe. "Our study reveals that some regions of the right dorsal occipital stream do not require visual experience to develop a specialization for the processing of spatial information and are functionally integrated in the preexisting brain network dedicated to this ability."

The researchers worked with 11 individuals who were born blind and 11 who were not. Their brain activity was analyzed via MRI scanning while they were subjected to a series of tones. "The results demonstrate the brain's amazing plasticity," Collignon said. Plasticity is a scientific term that refers to the brain's ability to change as a result of an experience. "The brain designates a specific set of areas for spatial processing, even if it is deprived of its natural inputs since birth. The visually deprived brain is sufficiently flexible that it uses "neuronal niche" to develop and perform functions that are sufficiently close to the ones required by the remaining senses. Such a research demonstrates that the brain should be more considered as a function-oriented machine rather than a pure sensory machine."

The findings raise questions regarding how this rewiring occurs during the development of blind new born babies. "In early life, the brain is sculpting itself on the basis of experience, with some synaptic connections eliminated and others strengthened," Collignon noted. Synaptic connections enable our neurons, or brain cells, to communicate. "After a peak of development ending approximately at the age of 8 months, approximately 40% of the synapses of the visual cortex are gradually removed to reach a stable synaptic density at approximately the age of 11 years. It is possible that that the rewiring occurs as part of the maintenance of our ever changing neural connections, but this theory will require further research," Collignon said.

Collignon's study received funding from the Fondation de l'Hτpital Sainte-Justine, the Fonds de la recherche en santι du Quιbec, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada, and the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique of Belgium.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Montreal. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. O. Collignon, G. Vandewalle, P. Voss, G. Albouy, G. Charbonneau, M. Lassonde, F. Lepore. Functional specialization for auditory-spatial processing in the occipital cortex of congenitally blind humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; 108 (11): 4435 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1013928108

Cite This Page:

University of Montreal. "Some blind people 'see' with their ears, neuropsychologists show." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110316104123.htm>.
University of Montreal. (2011, March 17). Some blind people 'see' with their ears, neuropsychologists show. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110316104123.htm
University of Montreal. "Some blind people 'see' with their ears, neuropsychologists show." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110316104123.htm (accessed April 19, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Nine-Month-Old Baby Can't Open His Mouth

Nine-Month-Old Baby Can't Open His Mouth

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) — Nine-month-old Wyatt Scott was born with a rare disorder called congenital trismus, which prevents him from opening his mouth. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Holy Grail' Of Weight Loss? New Find Could Be It

'Holy Grail' Of Weight Loss? New Find Could Be It

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — In a potential breakthrough for future obesity treatments, scientists have used MRI scans to pinpoint brown fat in a living adult for the first time. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Little Progress Made In Fighting Food Poisoning, CDC Says

Little Progress Made In Fighting Food Poisoning, CDC Says

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — A new report shows rates of two foodborne infections increased in the U.S. in recent years, while salmonella actually dropped 9 percent. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) — The breakthrough could mean a cure for some serious diseases and even the possibility of human cloning, but it's all still a way off. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins