Congenital blindness is associated with large-scale reorganization of anatomical networks


Blindness is a unique model for understanding the role of experience in the development of the brain's functional and anatomical architecture. Documenting changes in the structure of anatomical networks for this population would substantiate the notion that the brain's core network-level organization may undergo neuroplasticity as a result of life-long experience. To examine this issue, we compared whole-brain networks of regional cortical-thickness covariance in early blind and matched sighted individuals. This covariance is thought to reflect signatures of integration between systems involved in similar perceptual/cognitive functions. Using graph-theoretic metrics, we identified a unique mode of anatomical reorganization in the blind that differed from that found for sighted. This was seen in that network partition structures derived from subgroups of blind were more similar to each other than they were to partitions derived from sighted. Notably, after deriving network partitions, we found that language and visual regions tended to reside within separate modules in sighted but showed a pattern of merging into shared modules in the blind. Our study demonstrates that early visual deprivation triggers a systematic large-scale reorganization of whole-brain cortical-thickness networks, suggesting changes in how occipital regions interface with other functional networks in the congenitally blind.

In Neuroimage