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Brain rewires itself in deaf, blind people-U.S. study
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Two university studies on deaf and blind
people released Monday provide further evidence that their
brains ``rewire'' themselves to find uses for areas that would
have been devoted to hearing or sight.
Researchers at two U.S. universities used a procedure known
as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to measure blood flow
in the brains of deaf and blind people to show that areas
associated with processing sounds and images remained active.
``This shows the brain does, essentially, rewire itself,''
Victoria Morgan, a radiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical
Center in Nashville, Tennessee, said in a report to the
Radiological Society of North America.
``Although we're just scratching the surface, this suggests things
are wide open for people with brain injuries. Perhaps
their brains can adapt and can learn to do tasks the damaged
area can no longer accomplish,'' she said.
The Vanderbilt study included six people who were blind at
birth or shortly after and eight people who lost their sight
after birth. The research showed that the visual cortex, which
sighted people use to process vision, was active in all the
blind patients as they read Braille.
In a University of Rochester, New York, study, the imaging
technique was done on six people who were born deaf and six
hearing people while they performed a series of
The researchers noted activity in the superior temporal
lobes -- used to process sound and speech in hearing people --
were active while the deaf patients read lips or did other
visual tasks. The temporal lobes were inactive in hearing people
performing visual tasks.
``The findings are preliminary, but a better understanding
of deaf physiology ultimately may help guide strategies for deaf
education,'' radiologist Dean Shibata said. He said the findings
might also put neurosurgeons on alert that areas of the brain
associated with hearing are still actively used by deaf people.