Functional magnetic resonance imaging was performed on blind adults resting and reading Braille. The strongest activation was found in primary somatic sensory/motor cortex on both cortical hemispheres. Additional foci of activation were situated in the parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes where visual information is processed in sighted persons. The regions were differentiated most in the correlation of their time courses of activation with resting and reading. Differences in magnitude and expanse of activation were substantially less significant. Among the traditionally visual areas, the strength of correlation was greatest in posterior parietal cortex and moderate in occipitotemporal, lateral occipital, and primary visual cortex. It was low in secondary visual cortex as well as in dorsal and ventral inferior temporal cortex and posterior middle temporal cortex. Visual experience increased the strength of correlation in all regions except dorsal inferior temporal and posterior parietal cortex. The greatest statistically significant increase, i.e., approximately 30%, was in ventral inferior temporal and posterior middle temporal cortex. In these regions, words are analyzed semantically, which may be facilitated by visual experience. In contrast, visual experience resulted in a slight, insignificant diminution of the strength of correlation in dorsal inferior temporal cortex where language is analyzed phonetically. These findings affirm that posterior temporal regions are engaged in the processing of written language. Moreover, they suggest that this function is modified by early visual experience. Furthermore, visual experience significantly strengthened the correlation of activation and Braille reading in occipital regions traditionally involved in the processing of visual features and object recognition suggesting a role for visual imagery.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.