In a case of longstanding low vision regions of visual cortex that respond to tactile stimulation of the finger with Braille characters are not causally involved in the discrimination of those same Braille characters

Edward H Silson, Andre D Gouws, Gordon E Legge, Antony B Morland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Braille reading and other tactile discrimination tasks recruit the visual cortex of both blind and normally sighted individuals undergoing short-term visual deprivation. Prior functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) work in patient 'S', a visually impaired adult with the rare ability to read both highly magnified print visually and Braille by touch, found that foveal representations of S's visual cortex were recruited during tactile perception, whereas peripheral regions were recruited during visual perception. Here, we test the causal nature of tactile responses in the visual cortex of S by combining tactile and visual psychophysics with repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. First, we replicate the previous fMRI findings in S. Second, we demonstrate that transient disruption of S's foveal visual cortex has no measurable impact on S's tactile processing performance compared to that of healthy controls - a pattern not predicted by the fMRI results. Third, stimulation of foveal visual cortex maximally disrupted visual processing performance in both S and controls, suggesting the possibility of preserved visual processing within S's foveal representation. Finally, stimulation of somatosensory cortex induced the expected disruption to tactile processing performance in both S and controls. These data suggest that tactile responses in S's foveal representation reflect unmasking of latent connections between visual and somatosensory cortices and not behaviourally relevant cross-modal plasticity. Unlike studies in congenitally blind individuals, it is possible that the absence of complete visual loss in S has limited the degree of causally impactful cross-modal reorganisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-286
Number of pages10
JournalCortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior
Early online date30 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022

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© 2022 The Author(s).

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