Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Stephen Lomber


Recent neuroscientific research has focused on cortical plasticity, which refers to the ability of the cerebral cortex to adapt as a consequence of experience. Over the past decade, an increasing number of studies have convincingly shown that the brain can adapt to the loss or impairment of a sensory system, resulting in the expansion or heightened ability of the remaining senses. A particular region in cat auditory cortex, the dorsal zone (DZ), has been shown to mediate enhanced visual motion detection in deaf animals. The purpose of this thesis is to further our understanding of the structure and function of DZ in both hearing and deaf animals, in order to better understand how the brain compensates following insult or injury to a sensory system, with the ultimate goal of improving the utility of sensory prostheses.

First, I demonstrate that the brain connectivity profile of animals with early- and late-onset deafness is similar to that of hearing animals, but the projection strength to visual brain regions involved in motion processing increases as a consequence of deafness. Second, I specifically evaluate the functional impact of the strongest auditory connections to area DZ using reversible deactivation and electrophysiological recordings. I show that projections that ultimately originate in primary auditory cortex (A1) form much of the basis of the response of DZ neurons to auditory stimulation. Third, I show that almost half of the neurons in DZ are influenced by visual or somatosensory information. I further demonstrate that this modulation by other sensory systems can have effects that are opposite in direction during different portions of the auditory response. I also show that techniques that incorporate the responses of multiple neurons, such as multi-unit and local field potential recordings, may vastly overestimate the degree to which multisensory processing occurs in a given brain region. Finally, I confirm that individual neurons in DZ become responsive mainly to visual stimulation following deafness.

Together, these results shed light on the function and structural organization of area DZ in both hearing and deaf animals, and will contribute to the development of a comprehensive model of cross-modal plasticity.

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