Studies of occipital cortex plasticity in blindness provide insight into how intrinsic constraints interact with experience to determine cortical specialization. We tested the cognitive nature and anatomical origins of occipital responses during non-verbal, non-spatial auditory tasks. In a go/no-go task, congenitally blind (N=23) and sighted (N=24) individuals heard rapidly occurring (<1/sec) non-verbal sounds and made one of two button presses (frequent-go 50%, infrequent-go 25%) or withheld a response (no-go, 25%). Rapid and frequent button presses heighten response selection/inhibition demands on the no-go trials: In sighted and blind adults a right-lateralized prefrontal (PFC) network responded most to no-go trials, followed by infrequent-go and finally frequent-go trials. In the blind group only, a right-lateralized occipital network showed the same response profile and laterality of occipital and PFC responses was correlated across blind individuals. A second experiment with spoken sentences and equations (N=16) found that no-go sensitive occipital network is distinct from previously identified occipital responses to spoken language. Finally, in resting-state data (N=30 blind, N=31 blindfolded sighted), no-go responsive 'visual' cortex of blind relative to sighted participants was more synchronized with PFC and less synchronized with primary auditory and sensory-motor cortices. No-go responsive occipital cortex showed higher synchrony with no-go responsive PFC than language responsive inferior frontal cortex. We conclude that in blindness, a right-lateralized occipital network responds to non-verbal executive processes, including response selection. These results suggest that connectivity with fronto-parietal executive networks is a key mechanism for plasticity in blindness.Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Inc.
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Rita E Loiotile