New study compares sighted and blind brains
Structural and functional neuroplastic brain changes occurring as a result of early ocular blindness may be more widespread than initially thought
A new study demonstrates that losing one’s sight before the age of three causes long-term alterations and subsequent enhancements to the other senses, according to a report in medicalnewstoday.com
The study led by Massachusetts Eye and Ear researchers published in PLOS One combines structural, functional, and anatomical brain changes and compares blind people’s brains with those of people with normal sight.
To develop a picture of the brain changes that occur, the team used both diffusion-based and resting state MRI. In all, 28 participants took part in the study: 12 were either blind from birth or had become blind before the age of three, and 16 participants had normal sight.
The scans of individuals with early blindness showed clear differences from the control scans of normally sighted participants, so changes in structural and functional connectivity could be measured.
Enhanced connections between specific parts of the brain were seen in the blind people that were not present in the control group. These observed differences surprised researchers:
“Our results demonstrate that the structural and functional neuroplastic brain changes occurring as a result of early ocular blindness may be more widespread than initially thought,” said Corinna M. Bauer, Ph.D., lead author
Dr Bauer, a teacher of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, said: “We observed significant changes not only in the occipital cortex (where vision is processed), but also areas implicated in memory, language processing, and sensory motor functions.”