More than blindsight: Case report of a child with extraordinary visual capacity following perinatal bilateral occipital lobe injury

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© 2017 Elsevier Ltd Injury to the primary visual cortex (V1, striate cortex) and the geniculostriate pathway in adults results in cortical blindness, abolishing conscious visual perception. Early studies by Larry Weiskrantz and colleagues demonstrated that some patients with an occipital-lobe injury exhibited a degree of unconscious vision and visually-guided behaviour within the blind field. A more recent focus has been the observed phenomenon whereby early-life injury to V1 often results in the preservation of visual perception in both monkeys and humans. These findings initiated a concerted effort on multiple fronts, including nonhuman primate studies, to uncover the neural substrate/s of the spared conscious vision. In both adult and early-life cases of V1 injury, evidence suggests the involvement of the Middle Temporal area (MT) of the extrastriate visual cortex, which is an integral component area of the dorsal stream and is also associated with visually-guided behaviors. Because of the limited number of early-life V1 injury cases for humans, the outstanding question in the field is what secondary visual pathways are responsible for this extraordinary capacity? Here we report for the first time a case of a child (B.I.) who suffered a bilateral occipital-lobe injury in the first two weeks postnatally due to medium-chain acyl-Co-A dehydrogenase deficiency. At 6 years of age, B.I. underwent a battery of neurophysiological tests, as well as structural and diffusion MRI and ophthalmic examination at 7 years. Despite the extensive bilateral occipital cortical damage, B.I. has extensive conscious visual abilities, is not blind, and can use vision to navigate his environment. Furthermore, unlike blindsight patients, he can readily and consciously identify happy and neutral faces and colors, tasks associated with ventral stream processing. These findings suggest significant re-routing of visual information. To identify the putative visual pathway/s responsible for this ability, MRI tractography of secondary visual pathways connecting MT with the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) and the inferior pulvinar (PI) were analysed. Results revealed an increased PI-MT pathway in the left hemisphere, suggesting that this pulvinar relay could be the neural pathway affording the preserved visual capacity following an early-life lesion of V1. These findings corroborate anatomical evidence from monkeys showing an enhanced PI-MT pathway following an early-life lesion of V1, compared to adults.


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