Neural correlates of virtual route recognition in congenital blindness

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Despite the importance of vision for spatial navigation, blind subjects retain the ability to represent spatial information and to move independently in space to localize and reach targets. However, the neural correlates of navigation in subjects lacking vision remain elusive. We therefore used functional MRI (fMRI) to explore the cortical network underlying successful navigation in blind subjects. We first trained congenitally blind and blindfolded sighted control subjects to perform a virtual navigation task with the tongue display unit (TDU), a tactile-to-vision sensory substitution device that translates a visual image into electrotactile stimulation applied to the tongue. After training, participants repeated the navigation task during fMRI. Although both groups successfully learned to use the TDU in the virtual navigation task, the brain activation patterns showed substantial differences. Blind but not blindfolded sighted control subjects activated the parahippocampus and visual cortex during navigation, areas that are recruited during topographical learning and spatial representation in sighted subjects. When the navigation task was performed under full vision in a second group of sighted participants, the activation pattern strongly resembled the one obtained in the blind when using the TDU. This suggests that in the absence of vision, cross-modal plasticity permits the recruitment of the same cortical network used for spatial navigation tasks in sighted subjects.
TidsskriftPNAS Early Edition
Udgave nummer28
Sider (fra-til)12716-21
Antal sider6
StatusUdgivet - 13 jul. 2010

ID: 33434474