Cortical Network Differences in the Sighted Versus Early Blind for Recognition of Human-Produced Action Sounds

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Both sighted and blind individuals can readily interpret meaning behind everyday real-world sounds. In sighted listeners, we previously reported that regions along the bilateral posterior superior temporal sulci (pSTS) and middle temporal gyri (pMTG) are preferentially activated when presented with recognizable action sounds. These regions have generally been hypothesized to represent primary loci for complex motion processing, including visual biological motion processing and audio–visual integration. However, it remained unclear whether, or to what degree, life-long visual experience might impact functions related to hearing perception or memory of sound-source actions. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we compared brain regions activated in congenitally blind versus sighted listeners in response to hearing a wide range of recognizable human-produced action sounds (excluding vocalizations) versus unrecognized, backward-played versions of those sounds. Here, we show that recognized human action sounds commonly evoked activity in both groups along most of the left pSTS/pMTG complex, though with relatively greater activity in the right pSTS/pMTG by the blind group. These results indicate that portions of the postero-lateral temporal cortices contain domain-specific hubs for biological and/or complex motion processing independent of sensory-modality experience. Contrasting the two groups, the sighted listeners preferentially activated bilateral parietal plus medial and lateral frontal networks, whereas the blind listeners preferentially activated left anterior insula plus bilateral anterior calcarine and medial occipital regions, including what would otherwise have been visual-related cortex. These global-level network differences suggest that blind and sighted listeners may preferentially use different memory retrieval strategies when hearing and attempting to recognize action sounds. Hum Brain Mapp, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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