Come up with information that “could help develop devices that increase quality of life”
New information on the functioning of the brain of people with congenital deafness obtained in research led by the University of Coimbra (UC), and published today, could help develop devices that increase their quality of life.
The research team presented new information to understand the plasticity of the brains of people with congenital deafness (deafness present from birth), writes Lusa.
According to the UC, “scientists were able to show how visual information reaches the auditory cortex, a region of the brain that in people with normal hearing processes auditory information, but in individuals with congenital deafness processes visual information”.
“This new discovery could serve as a potential aid to the creation and development of cochlear implants (electronic devices used by people with deafness that stimulate the auditory nerve) and other medical devices that could lead to an increase in the quality of life of people with hearing loss”.
Scientific studies over the years have shown that the human brain has an “enormous capacity to adapt to situations of sensory deprivation” (meaning blindness and/ or deafness). This characteristic is known as neuroplasticity.
“In this study, neuroplastic changes in auditory and visual networks caused by deafness are revealed, emphasising the dynamic nature of sensory systems in response to congenital deafness,” said the UC.
The study involved 31 people, divided into two groups (15 congenitally deaf and 16 normal-hearing), who were subjected to different visual stimuli during an MRI scan.
According to Zohar Tal, a researcher at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the University of Coimbra (FPCEUC), “the organisation and structure of the brain undergoes changes in people deprived of one sense” and “areas of the brain where information is not arriving take on other functions, which is not the case in individuals with the same sensory areas working at full capacity”.
“We also know that in congenitally deaf people, the auditory cortex is activated after receiving visual stimuli. Our aim was to understand how visual information reached the auditory cortex of congenitally deaf individuals,” she said.
Scientists concluded that “in congenitally deaf people, the visual information that is processed in the auditory cortex comes from subcortical structures such as the lateral geniculate nucleus, the thalamus or the pulvinar”.
These are “structures typically dedicated to visual processing that transmit information, in normal hearing, to the visual cortex,” explained FPCEUC lecturer and researcher Jorge Almeida.
“These structures process simpler sensory and visual aspects and are an integral part of initial visual processing,” he added.
The study also involved scientists from universities in Germany, China and the United States of America.
Although Lusa writes that this study was published today, it appears to be online here, since last month.