New research shed light on how blind kids’ brains rewire to enhance other senses. Scientists monitored the phenomenon to better understand the dynamics and have observed unexpectedly huge potential of adaptation of the brain.

 

In blind people, the brain develops specific connections, very different from those in the brains of people with normal sight.

 

A new study has focused on the different dynamics that the brain enters when a person loses his or her sight. “Our results demonstrate that the structural and functional neuroplastic brain changes occurring as a result of early ocular blindness may be more widespread than initially thought”, says lead author of the study, Corinna M. Bauer, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

The theory is not new. Numerous articles in the media have addressed the idea – coming from scientific hypotheses – that once a person goes blind, other senses are enhanced, such as hearing, or smell. But since now, the exact changes that occur at a neural level were not understood.

This recent study compared the brains of blind people with those of people with regular eye sight. For monitoring, the researchers used diffusion-based and resting state MRI. The blind participants in the study were either blind from birth, or had become blind by age 3.

The MRI of blind people revealed specific connections in certain parts of the brain, which were not observed in those of the participants with normal sight. These special connections were observed in the occipital cortex, where vision would be processed, and in areas where memory, language and sensory motor function are processed.

The changes take place, according to researchers due to a characteristic of the bran called neuroplasticity. This means that the brain can modulate its dynamics according to the environment it interacts with and also in accordance with the channels it gets the information through.

This is the first study that has observed the plasticity in response to blindness, marking a first step on the path to clinical application.