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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

August 2015, Vol. 27, No. 8, Pages 1633-1647
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00807)
© 2015 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Occipital Cortex of Blind Individuals Is Functionally Coupled with Executive Control Areas of Frontal Cortex
Article PDF (1.08 MB)

In congenital blindness, the occipital cortex responds to a range of nonvisual inputs, including tactile, auditory, and linguistic stimuli. Are these changes in functional responses to stimuli accompanied by altered interactions with nonvisual functional networks? To answer this question, we introduce a data-driven method that searches across cortex for functional connectivity differences across groups. Replicating prior work, we find increased fronto-occipital functional connectivity in congenitally blind relative to blindfolded sighted participants. We demonstrate that this heightened connectivity extends over most of occipital cortex but is specific to a subset of regions in the inferior, dorsal, and medial frontal lobe. To assess the functional profile of these frontal areas, we used an n-back working memory task and a sentence comprehension task. We find that, among prefrontal areas with overconnectivity to occipital cortex, one left inferior frontal region responds to language over music. By contrast, the majority of these regions responded to working memory load but not language. These results suggest that in blindness occipital cortex interacts more with working memory systems and raise new questions about the function and mechanism of occipital plasticity.