Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Previous studies have provided evidence for a tool-selective region in left lateral occipitotemporal cortex (LOTC). This region responds selectively to pictures of tools and to characteristic visual tool motion. The present human fMRI study tested whether visual experience is required for the development of tool-selective responses in left LOTC. Words referring to tools, animals, and nonmanipulable objects were presented auditorily to 14 congenitally blind and 16 sighted participants. Sighted participants additionally viewed pictures of these objects. In whole-brain group analyses, sighted participants showed tool-selective activity in left LOTC in both visual and auditory tasks. Importantly, virtually identical tool-selective LOTC activity was found in the congenitally blind group performing the auditory task. Furthermore, both groups showed equally strong tool-selective activity for auditory stimuli in a tool-selective LOTC region defined by the picture-viewing task in the sighted group. Detailed analyses in individual participants showed significant tool-selective LOTC activity in 13 of 14 blind participants and 14 of 16 sighted participants. The strength and anatomical location of this activity were indistinguishable across groups. Finally, both blind and sighted groups showed significant resting state functional connectivity between left LOTC and a bilateral frontoparietal network. Together, these results indicate that tool-selective activity in left LOTC develops without ever having seen a tool or its motion. This finding puts constraints on the possible role that this region could have in tool processing and, more generally, provides new insights into the principles shaping the functional organization of OTC.