Memory-guided drawing training increases Granger causal influences from the perirhinal cortex to V1 in the blind

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The perirhinal cortex (PRC) is a medial temporal lobe structure that has been implicated in not only visual memory in the sighted, but also tactile memory in the blind (Cacciamani & Likova, 2016). It has been proposed that, in the blind, the PRC may contribute to modulation of tactile memory responses that emerge in low-level “visual” area V1 as a result of training-induced cortical reorganization (Likova, 2012, 2015). While some studies in the sighted have indicated that the PRC is indeed structurally and functionally connected to the visual cortex (Clavagnier, Falchier, & Kennedy, 2004; Peterson, Cacciamani, Barense, & Scalf, 2012), the PRC's direct modulation of V1 is unknown—particularly in those who lack the visual input that typically stimulates this region. In the present study, we tested Likova's PRC modulation hypothesis; specifically, we used fMRI to assess the PRC's Granger causal influence on V1 activation in the blind during a tactile memory task. To do so, we trained congenital and acquired blind participants on a unique memory-guided drawing technique previously shown to result in V1 reorganization towards tactile memory representations (Likova, 2012). The tasks (20 s each) included: tactile exploration of raised line drawings of faces and objects, tactile memory retrieval via drawing, and a scribble motor/memory control. FMRI before and after a week of the Cognitive-Kinesthetic training on these tasks revealed a significant increase in PRC-to-V1 Granger causality from pre- to post-training during the memory drawing task, but not during the motor/memory control. This increase in causal connectivity indicates that the training strengthened the top-down modulation of visual cortex from the PRC. This is the first study to demonstrate enhanced directed functional connectivity from the PRC to the visual cortex in the blind, implicating the PRC as a potential source of the reorganization towards tactile representations that occurs in V1 in the blind brain (Likova, 2012).

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