Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Deaf brain processes touch differently: Lacking sound input, the primary auditory cortex 'feels' touch

Date:
July 10, 2012
Source:
NIH/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Summary:
People who are born deaf process the sense of touch differently than people who are born with normal hearing, according to new research. The finding reveals how the early loss of a sense -- in this case hearing -- affects brain development.

People who are born deaf process the sense of touch differently than people who are born with normal hearing, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health. The finding reveals how the early loss of a sense -- in this case hearing -- affects brain development.
Credit: James Steidl / Fotolia

People who are born deaf process the sense of touch differently than people who are born with normal hearing, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health. The finding reveals how the early loss of a sense -- in this case hearing -- affects brain development. It adds to a growing list of discoveries that confirm the impact of experiences and outside influences in molding the developing brain.

The study is published in the July 11 online issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

The researchers, Christina M. Karns, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate in the Brain Development Lab at the University of Oregon, Eugene, and her colleagues, show that deaf people use the auditory cortex to process touch stimuli and visual stimuli to a much greater degree than occurs in hearing people. The finding suggests that since the developing auditory cortex of profoundly deaf people is not exposed to sound stimuli, it adapts and takes on additional sensory processing tasks.

"This research shows how the brain is capable of rewiring in dramatic ways," said James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIDCD. "This will be of great interest to other researchers who are studying multisensory processing in the brain."

Previous research, including studies performed by the lab director, Helen Neville Ph.D., has shown that people who are born deaf are better at processing peripheral vision and motion. Deaf people may process vision using many different brain regions, especially auditory areas, including the primary auditory cortex. However, no one has tackled whether vision and touch together are processed differently in deaf people, primarily because in experimental settings, it is more difficult to produce the kind of precise tactile stimuli needed to answer this question.

Dr. Karns and her colleagues developed a unique apparatus that could be worn like headphones while subjects were in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. Flexible tubing, connected to a compressor in another room, delivered soundless puffs of air above the right eyebrow and to the cheek below the right eye. Visual stimuli -- brief pulses of light -- were delivered through fiber optic cables mounted directly below the air-puff nozzle. Functional MRI was used to measure reactions to the stimuli in Heschl's gyrus, the site of the primary auditory cortex in the human brain's temporal lobe as well as other brain areas.

The researchers took advantage of an already known perceptual illusion in hearing people known as the auditory induced double flash, in which a single flash of light paired with two or more brief auditory events is perceived as multiple flashes of light. In their experiment, the researchers used a double puff of air as a tactile stimulus to replace the auditory stimulus, but kept the single flash of light. Subjects were also exposed to tactile stimuli and light stimuli separately and time-periods without stimuli to establish a baseline for brain activity.

Hearing people exposed to two puffs of air and one flash of light claimed only to see a single flash. However, when exposed to the same mix of stimuli, the subjects who were deaf saw two flashes. Looking at the brain scans of those who saw the double flash, the scientists observed much greater activity in Heschl's gyrus, although not all deaf brains responded to the same degree. The deaf individuals with the highest levels of activity in the primary auditory cortex in response to touch also had the strongest response to the illusion.

"We designed this study because we thought that touch and vision might have stronger interactions in the auditory cortices of deaf people," said Dr. Karns." As it turns out, the primary auditory cortex in people who are profoundly deaf focuses on touch, even more than vision, in our experiment."

There are several ways the finding may help deaf people. For example, if touch and vision interact more in the deaf, touch could be used to help deaf students learn math or reading. The finding also has the potential to help clinicians improve the quality of hearing after cochlear implants, especially among congenitally deaf children who are implanted after the ages of 3 or 4. These children, who have lacked auditory input since birth, may struggle with comprehension and speech because their auditory cortex has taken on the processing of other senses, such as touch and vision. These changes may make it more challenging for the auditory cortex to recover auditory processing function after cochlear implantation. Being able to measure how much the auditory cortex has been taken over by other sensory processing could offer doctors insights into the kinds of intervention programs that would help the brain retrain and devote more capacity to auditory processing.

This research was supported with NIDCD funding 5R01DC000128-34, and by Recovery Act supplement R01DC000128-32S1.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NIH/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NIH/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. "Deaf brain processes touch differently: Lacking sound input, the primary auditory cortex 'feels' touch." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120710171733.htm>.
NIH/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2012, July 10). Deaf brain processes touch differently: Lacking sound input, the primary auditory cortex 'feels' touch. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120710171733.htm
NIH/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. "Deaf brain processes touch differently: Lacking sound input, the primary auditory cortex 'feels' touch." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120710171733.htm (accessed August 28, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

Treadmill 'trips' May Reduce Falls for Elderly

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) Scientists are tripping the elderly on purpose in a Chicago lab in an effort to better prevent seniors from falling and injuring themselves in real life. (Aug.28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) It’s an unusual condition with a colorful name. Kids with “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome see sudden distortions in objects they’re looking at or their own bodies appear to change size, a lot like the main character in the Lewis Carroll story. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Stopping Schizophrenia Before Birth

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Scientists have long called choline a “brain booster” essential for human development. Not only does it aid in memory and learning, researchers now believe choline could help prevent mental illness. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Personalized Brain Vaccine for Glioblastoma

Ivanhoe (Aug. 27, 2014) Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive brain cancer in humans. Now a new treatment using the patient’s own tumor could help slow down its progression and help patients live longer. Video provided by Ivanhoe
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