Cross-modal Plasticity in Specific Auditory Cortices Underlies Visual Compensations in the Deaf
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When the brain is deprived of input from one sensory modality, it often compensates with supranormal performance in one or more of the intact sensory systems. In the absence of acoustic input, it has been proposed that cross-modal reorganization of deaf auditory cortex may provide the neural substrate mediating compensatory visual function. We tested this hypothesis using a battery of visual psychophysical tasks and found that congenitally deaf cats, compared with hearing cats, have superior localization in the peripheral field and lower visual movement detection thresholds. In the deaf cats, reversible deactivation of posterior auditory cortex selectively eliminated superior visual localization abilities, whereas deactivation of the dorsal auditory cortex eliminated superior visual motion detection. Our results indicate that enhanced visual performance in the deaf is caused by cross-modal reorganization of deaf auditory cortex and it is possible to localize individual visual functions in discrete portions of reorganized auditory cortex.