News | Neuro Imaging | August 21, 2015

Johns Hopkins Study Reveals Superior Adaptability of Brain's Vision Center

Researchers uncover how and when the visual cortex of blind children adapts to respond to spoken language, sound, music

Johns Hopkins University, adaptability, brain's vision center, blind children, functional magnetic resonance imaging, Marina Bedny

Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins University

August 21, 2015 — By early childhood, the sight regions of a blind person’s brain respond to sound, especially spoken language, a Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist has found. The results, published this week in The Journal of Neuroscience, suggest that a young, developing brain has a striking capacity for functional adaptation.

“The traditional view is that cortical function is rigidly constrained by evolution. We found in childhood, the human cortex is remarkably flexible,” said Johns Hopkins cognitive neuroscientist Marina Bedny, who conducted the research while at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “And experience has a much bigger role in shaping the brain than we thought.”

Bedny, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, studied 19 blind and 40 sighted children, ages 4 to 17, along with MIT cognitive scientists Hilary Richardson and Rebecca Saxe. All but one of the blind children were blind since birth.

They monitored the children’s brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging while the children listened to stories, music or the sound of someone speaking an unfamiliar language. The blind children’s vision portion of the brain, the left lateral occipital area, responded to spoken language, music and foreign speech — but most strongly to stories they could understand. In sighted children and sighted children wearing blindfolds, that same area of the brain didn’t respond.

The researchers concluded that blind children’s ‘visual’ cortex is involved in understanding language.

Working with individuals who are blind offers cognitive researchers an opportunity to discover how nature and nurture, or a person’s genes and their experience, sculpt brain function.

Though scientists have shown that occipital cortexes of congenitally blind adults can respond to language and sound, this study offers the first look at how and when the change in brain function occurs.

The team found the blind children’s occipital cortex response to stories reached adult levels by age 4. Because spoken language had colonized the brain’s visual region so early in the children’s development, the team realized the brain adaptation had nothing to do with a child’s proficiency in Braille. Scientists had previously guessed that brain plasticity for spoken language in blind people had something to do with Braille.

Blind children’s occipital reaction to the other sounds, music and foreign speech, did increase as they aged.

Bedny believes her findings could one day lead to improved therapies for people with brain damage. If someone had a damaged part of the brain, she said it could be possible to train another part of the brain do the damaged part’s work.

“Early in development, the human cortex can take on a strikingly wide range of functions,” Bedny said. “We should think of the brain like a computer, with a hard drive ready to be programmed and reprogrammed to do what we want.”

For more information: www.pbs.jhu.edu

Related Content

Turkish Hospital Begins MR-Guided Radiation Therapy With Viewray MRIdian Linac
News | Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) | September 21, 2018
ViewRay Inc. announced that Acibadem Maslak Hospital in Istanbul, Turkey has begun treating patients with ViewRay's...
Machine Learning IDs Markers to Help Predict Alzheimer's

Neurologists use structural and diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify changes in brain tissue (both gray and white matter) that are characteristic of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. The MRI images are analyzed using morphometry and tractography techniques, which detect changes in the shape and dimensions of the brain and in the tissue microstructure, respectively. In this example, the images show the normal brain of an elderly patient. Image courtesy of Jiook Cha.

News | Neuro Imaging | September 20, 2018
New research has shown a combination of two different modes of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer-based...
Ingenia Ambition X 1.5T MR. This innovation is the latest advance in the Ingenia MRI portfolio, which comprises fully-digital MRI systems, healthcare informatics and a range of maintenance and life cycle services for integrated solutions that empower a faster, smarter, and simpler path to enabling a confident diagnosis
News | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | September 14, 2018
Philips, a global leader in health technology, launched the Ingenia Ambition X 1.5T MR.
Veye Chest version 2
News | Lung Cancer | September 11, 2018
Aidence, an Amsterdam-based medical AI company, announced that Veye Chest version 2, a class IIa medical device, has
Sponsored Content | Case Study | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | September 07, 2018 | By Sabine Sartoretti, M.D.
As soon as the Compressed SENSE technology became available to the MRI team at Kantonsspital Winterthur (Switzerland),...

Image courtesy of Philips Healthcare

Feature | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | September 06, 2018 | By Melinda Taschetta-Millane
According to the Prescient & Strategic Intelligence report, “Global Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Market Size,...
PET Imaging Agent Predicts Brain Tau Pathology, Alzheimer's Diagnosis
News | PET Imaging | September 05, 2018
Eli Lilly and Co. and Avid Radiopharmaceuticals Inc. announced a Phase 3 study of positron emission tomography (PET)...
Check-Cap Announces Interim Results of European Study of C-Scan System Version 3
News | Colonoscopy Systems | September 04, 2018
Check-Cap Ltd. announced the interim results for its post-CE approval study of the C-Scan system Version 3, an...
Brain Iron Levels May Predict Multiple Sclerosis Disabilities
News | Neuro Imaging | August 31, 2018
A new, highly accurate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique can monitor iron levels in the brains of multiple...
Study Finds Multiple Sclerosis Drug Slows Brain Shrinkage

An NIH-funded clinical trial suggested that the anti-inflammatory drug ibudilast may slow brain shrinkage caused by progressive MS. Image courtesy of Robert J. Fox, M.D., Cleveland Clinic.

News | Neuro Imaging | August 30, 2018
August 30, 2018 — Results from a clinical...