Organization of the commissural fiber system in congenital and late-onset blindness
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We investigated the effects of blindness on the structural and functional integrity of the corpus callosum and the anterior commissure (AC), which together form the two major components of the commissural pathways. Twelve congenitally blind (CB), 15 late blind (LB; mean onset of blindness of 16.6 ± 8.9 years), and 15 matched normally sighted controls (SC) participated in a multimodal brain imaging study. Magnetic resonance imaging(MRI) data were acquired using a 3T scanner, and included a structural brain scan, resting state functional MRI, and diffusion-weighted imaging. We used tractography to divide the AC into its anterior (aAC) and posterior (pAC) branch. Virtual tract dissection was performed using a deterministic spherical deconvolution tractography algorithm. The corpus callosum was subdivided into five subregions based on the criteria described by Witelson and modified by Bermudez and Zatorre. Our data revealed decreased fractional anisotropy of the pAC in CB and LB compared to SC, together with an increase in the number of streamlines in CB only. In addition, the AC surface area was significantly larger in CB compared to SC and LB, and correlated with the number of streamlines in pAC (rho = 0.55) and tract volume (rho = 0.46). As for the corpus callosum, the splenial part was significantly smaller in CB and LB, and fewer streamlines passed through it. We did not find group differences in functional connectivity of cortical areas connected by fibers crossing any of the five callosal subregions. The present data suggest that the two main components of the commissural system undergo neuroplastic changes, irrespective of the age of onset of blindness, although the alterations observed in the AC are more important in congenital than late-onset blindness.