White matter connectivity between occipital and temporal regions involved in face and voice processing in hearing and early deaf individuals

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Neuroplasticity following sensory deprivation has long inspired neuroscience research in the quest of understanding how sensory experience and genetics interact in developing the brain functional and structural architecture. Many studies have shown that sensory deprivation can lead to cross-modal functional recruitment of sensory deprived cortices. Little is known however about how structural reorganization may support these functional changes. In this study, we examined early deaf, hearing signer and hearing non-signer individuals using diffusion MRI to evaluate the potential structural connectivity linked to the functional recruitment of the temporal voice area by face stimuli in deaf individuals. More specifically, we characterized the structural connectivity between occipital, fusiform and temporal regions typically supporting voice- and face-selective processing. Despite the extensive functional reorganization for face processing in the temporal cortex of the deaf, macroscopic properties of these connections did not differ across groups. However, both occipito- and fusiform-temporal connections showed significant microstructural changes between groups (fractional anisotropy reduction, radial diffusivity increase). We propose that the reorganization of temporal regions after early auditory deprivation builds on intrinsic and mainly preserved anatomical connectivity between functionally specific temporal and occipital regions.HighlightsMacrostructural connectivity of the face-voice system is preserved in early deafness.Early deafness impacts on the microstructural connectivity of the face-voice system.Both genetics and experience shape structural connections in the face-voice system.Innate anatomical networks might constrain the expression of cross-modal plasticity.

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