News Release

How blindness shapes sound processing

Study is among the first to investigate effects of early blindness on auditory cortex, which may contribute to superior hearing in the blind

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Society for Neuroscience

Tonotopic & Tuning Width Maps

image: Figure 1 (left) shows tonotopic maps in auditory cortex for four example subjects. Tonotopic organization did not differ significantly across datasets. Figure 4 (right) shows tuning width maps in auditory cortex. Q estimates (for successfully fitted voxels, see Methods), are shown for the left hemisphere for two sighted subjects (A-B), and example individuals who are early blind (C) and anophthalmic (D). view more 

Credit: Huber et al., <em>JNeurosci</em> (2019)

Adults who lost their vision at an early age have more refined auditory cortex responses to simple sounds than sighted individuals, according to new neuroimaging research published in JNeurosci. The study is among the first to investigate the effects of early blindness on this brain region, which may contribute to superior hearing in the blind.

Loss of visual input from an early age is thought to reorganize how the brain processes sound. This plasticity has been observed in occipital cortex, where parts of the brain that usually respond to vision may take on new roles to handle auditory information. Auditory cortex itself may also become more specialized to support a blind individual's increased reliance on sound to interact with their environment.

Kelly Chang and colleagues at the University of Washington and the University of Oxford compared auditory cortex response to pure tones in blind and sighted individuals. Although the two groups had similarly-sized auditory cortices, this area was more finely tuned to specific auditory frequencies in people who became blind early in life or whose eyes failed to develop at all. Further research in people who lost -- and in some cases recovered -- their vision as adults may reveal the mechanisms underlying these changes.


Manuscript title: Early Blindness Shapes Cortical Representations of Auditory Frequency Within Auditory Cortex

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About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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