Activation of the hippocampal complex during tactile maze solving in congenitally blind subjects
Analysis of Variance
Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
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AbstractDespite their lack of vision, congenitally blind subjects are able to build and manipulate cognitive maps for spatial navigation. It is assumed that they thereby rely more heavily on echolocation, proprioceptive signals and environmental cues such as ambient temperature and audition to compensate for their lack of vision. Little is known, however, about the neural mechanisms underlying spatial navigation in blind individuals in settings where these cues are absent. We therefore measured behavioural performance and blood oxygenation-level dependant (BOLD) responses using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in congenitally blind and blindfolded sighted participants while they navigated through a tactile multiple T-maze. Both groups learned the maze task at a similar pace. In blind participants, tactile maze navigation was associated with increased BOLD responses in the right hippocampus and parahippocampus, occipital cortex and fusiform gyrus. Blindfolded sighted controls did not show increased BOLD responses in these areas; instead they activated the caudate nucleus and thalamus. Both groups activated the precuneus during tactile maze navigation. We conclude that cross-modal plastic processes allow for the recruitment of the hippocampal complex and visual cortex in congenital blindness.