A sensitive period in the neural phenotype of language in blind individuals.
Congenital blindness modifies the neural basis of language: “visual” cortices respond to linguistic information, and fronto-temporal language networks are less left-lateralized. We tested the hypothesis that this plasticity follows a sensitive period by comparing the neural basis of sentence processing between adult-onset blind (AB, n = 16), congenitally blind (CB, n = 22) and blindfolded sighted adults (n = 18). In Experiment 1, participants made semantic judgments for spoken sentences and, in a control condition, solved math equations. In Experiment 2, participants answered “who did what to whom” yes/no questions for grammatically complex (with syntactic movement) and simpler sentences. In a control condition, participants performed a memory task with non-words. In both experiments, visual cortices of CB and AB but not sighted participants responded more to sentences than control conditions, but the effect was much larger in the CB group. Only the “visual” cortex of CB participants responded to grammatical complexity. Unlike the CB group, the AB group showed no reduction in left-lateralization of fronto-temporal language network, relative to the sighted. These results suggest that congenital blindness modifies the neural basis of language differently from adult-onset blindness, consistent with a developmental sensitive period hypothesis.Copyright © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.