Corticocortical connections mediate primary visual cortex responses to auditory stimulation in the blind.
Klinge C., Eippert F., Röder B., Büchel C.
Blind individuals have to rely on nonvisual information to a greater extent than sighted to efficiently interact with the environment, and consequently exhibit superior skills in their spared modalities. These performance advantages are often paralleled by responses in the occipital cortex, which have been suggested to be essential for nonvisual processing in the blind. However, it is currently unclear through which pathways (i.e., thalamocortical or corticocortical connections) nonvisual information reaches the occipital cortex of the blind. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study blind and matched sighted humans with an auditory discrimination paradigm and used dynamic causal modeling to investigate the effective connectivity underlying auditory activations in the primary visual cortex of blind volunteers. Model comparison revealed that a model connecting the medial geniculate nucleus (MGN), primary auditory cortex (A1), and primary visual cortex (V1) in a bidirectional manner outperformed all other models in both groups. Regarding inference on model parameters, we observed that basic auditory mechanisms (i.e., sensory input to MGN and connections from MGN to A1) did not differ significantly between the two groups. In contrast, we found clear evidence for stronger corticocortical connections from A1 to V1 in the blind, whereas results with regard to thalamocortical enhancement (from MGN to V1 and, in a control analysis, from the lateral geniculate nucleus to V1) were not consistent. These results suggest that plastic changes especially in corticocortical connectivity allow auditory information to evoke responses in the primary visual cortex of blind individuals.