Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Hebrew University researcher studies ’reorganization’ of brain in blind people


Studies indicate that congenitally blind (blind from birth) people have superior verbal memory abilities than the sighted. Why and what is the significance of this?

A new study by a team of researchers headed by Dr. Ehud Zohary of the Department of Neurobiology at the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem provides a better understanding of this phenomenon through closer examination of how and where information is processed in the brains of blind people. An article on his work appears in the current online edition of Nature Neuroscience magazine. It is believed that this work could open a window towards future enhancement of the quality of life for blind people.

Humans, like other primates, rely primarily on vision to direct their behavior. The areas devoted to vision constitute some 25 percent of the human brain. The prevailing thought up to now was that the loss of vision due to blindness renders these regions useless. New evidence, however, shows that the "unemployed" occipital cortex in the brain -- which usually functions in connection with vision -- is utilized in the blind for other purposes.

For example, neuroimaging techniques have shown that the occipital cortex of congenitally blind people is active during Braille reading, indicating that this so-called "sight" region of the brain becomes reoriented for information processing connected with the sense of touch.

Yet, Braille reading involves more than just fine tactile judgments, since reading involves language and memory processes as well. Using functioning imaging (fMRI) in the congenitally blind, Zohary, together with his doctoral students Amir Amedi and Noa Raz, found that extensive regions in the occipital cortex are activated not only during Braille reading, but also during performances of verbal memory tasks, such as recalling a list of abstract words.

One of these activated regions is the primary visual cortex, or V1, which is the central gateway for visual information processing in the normal human brain. In contrast, no such verbal memory-related activation was found in V1 of a sighted control group. This V1 activation, unique to the blind, was accompanied by superior verbal memory skills for the blind as a group, compared to their sighted peers. The test shows that the greater the occipital activation, the higher the scores in the verbal memory tests.

Zohary’s research leads him to conclude that in congenital blindness, the visual cortex undergoes a dramatic reorganization and is recruited for high-level cognitive functions. There is evidence that this "conversion" is much more limited in people blinded at later stages in life.

Zohary says that his study opens a window for better understanding of cortical plasticity in brain systems, a crucial step in seeking to improve treatment for neurodegenerative diseases. Once researchers know more about how the cortical reorganization takes place -- and how to advance this process by proper training -- it may be possible to give blind people cognitive advantages that will serve them throughout life.

It is important to note, however, that due to the limitations of the fMRI technique, the actual neuronal mechanisms underlying memory cannot be addressed using neuroimaging, and therefore further complementary studies will be necessary, involving observation of laboratory animals performing similar behavioral tasks.

Jerry Barach | Hebrew University
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht NIH scientists describe potential antibody treatment for multidrug-resistant K. pneumoniae
14.03.2018 | NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

nachricht Researchers identify key step in viral replication
13.03.2018 | University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>