Scientists Map Brains of the Blind to Solve Mysteries of Human Brain Specialization; Unexpected Brain Connectivity Can Lead to Fast Brain Specialization and Rapid Adaptation

Studying the brain activity of blind people, scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are challenging the standard view of how the human brain specializes to perform different kinds of tasks, and shedding new light on how our brains can adapt to the rapid cultural and technological changes of the 21st Century. Highligts of the new research, publishe online on January 23, 2015 in Nature Communications, are: (1) understanding the brain activity of the blind can help solve one of the oddest phenomena in the human brain: how can tasks such as reading and recognizing numerical symbols have their own brain regions if these concepts were only developed several thousand years ago (which is negligible on an evolutionary timescale)? What was the job of these regions before their invention? (2) demontration that vision is not a prerequisite for "visual" cortical regions to develop these preferences.; (3) this stands in contrast to the current main theory explaining this specialization, which suggests these regions were adapted from other visual tasks such as the angles of lines and their intersections; (4) these results show that the required condition is not sensory-based (vision) but rather connectivity- and processing-based. For example, blind people reading Braille using their fingers will still use the "visual" areas; (5) this research uses shows unique connectivity patterns between the visual-number-form-area (VNFA) to quantity-processing areas in the right hemisphere, and between the visual-word-form-area (VWFA) to language-processing areas in the left hemisphere; (6) this type of mechanism can help explain how our brain adapts quickly to the changes of our era of constant cultural and technological innovations.
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