Recruitment of visual cortex for language processing in blind individuals: A neurobiological model

Tomasello, R.; Wennekers, T.; Garagnani, M. and Pulvermüller, F.. 2019. 'Recruitment of visual cortex for language processing in blind individuals: A neurobiological model'. In: 2019 Annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS 2019). San Francisco, United States 25 March 2019. [Conference or Workshop Item]


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Abstract or Description

After sensory deprivation, the visual cortex is functionally recruited into non-visual cognitive language and semantic processing. Why this functional organization takes place and how its underlying mechanisms work at the neuronal circuit level is still unclear. Here, we use a biologically constrained network model implementing anatomical structure, neurophysiological function and connectivity of the fronto-tempo-occipital cortex to simulate word-meaning acquisition in visually deprived and undeprived (‘healthy control’) brains. Whereas in the ‘undeprived’ simulations only words denoting visual entities grew into the visual domain, the ‘blind’ models unexpectedly produced word-related neuronal circuits extending into visual cortex for all semantic categories (and especially for those carrying action-related meaning). Additionally, during word recognition, the blind model showed long-lasting spiking neural activity compared to the sighted model, a sign for enhanced verbal working memory due to the additional neural recruitment. Three factors are crucial for explaining this deprivation-related growth: (i) changes in the network’s activity balance brought about by the absence of uncorrelated sensory input, (ii) the connectivity structure of the network, and (iii) Hebbian correlation learning. By offering a neurobiological account for neural changes of language processing due to visual deprivation, our model bridges the gap between cellular-level mechanisms and system-level language function in blind humans.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)

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15 January 2019Accepted
25 March 2019Completed

Event Location:

San Francisco, United States

Date range:

25 March 2019

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Date Deposited:

31 Jan 2019 12:37

Last Modified:

06 May 2021 20:04


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