Visual change detection recruits auditory cortices in early deafness

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Although cross-modal recruitment of early sensory areas in deafness and blindness is well established, the constraints and limits of these plastic changes remain to be understood. In the case of human deafness, for instance, it is known that visual, tactile or visuo-tactile stimuli can elicit a response within the auditory cortices. Nonetheless, both the timing of these evoked responses and the functional contribution of cross-modally recruited areas remain to be ascertained. In the present study, we examined to what extent auditory cortices of deaf humans participate in high-order visual processes, such as visual change detection. By measuring visual ERPs, in particular the visual MisMatch Negativity (vMMN), and performing source localization, we show that individuals with early deafness (N = 12) recruit the auditory cortices when a change in motion direction during shape deformation occurs in a continuous visual motion stream. Remarkably this “auditory” response for visual events emerged with the same timing as the visual MMN in hearing controls (N = 12), between 150 and 300 ms after the visual change. Furthermore, the recruitment of auditory cortices for visual change detection in early deaf was paired with a reduction of response within the visual system, indicating a shift from visual to auditory cortices of part of the computational process. The present study suggests that the deafened auditory cortices participate at extracting and storing the visual information and at comparing on-line the upcoming visual events, thus indicating that cross-modally recruited auditory cortices can reach this level of computation.

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