Better understanding of the extent and scope of visual cortex plasticity following central vision loss is essential both for clarifying the mechanisms of brain plasticity and for future development of interventions to retain or restore visual function. This study investigated structural differences in primary visual cortex between normally-sighted controls and participants with central vision loss due to macular degeneration (MD). Ten participants with MD and ten age-, gender-, and education-matched controls with normal vision were included. The thickness of primary visual cortex was assessed using T1-weighted anatomical scans, and central and peripheral cortical regions were carefully compared between well-characterized participants with MD and controls. Results suggest that, compared to controls, participants with MD had significantly thinner cortex in typically centrally-responsive primary visual cortex - the region of cortex that normally receives visual input from the damaged area of the retina. Conversely, peripherally-responsive primary visual cortex demonstrated significantly increased cortical thickness relative to controls. These results suggest that central vision loss may give rise to cortical thinning, while in the same group of people, compensatory recruitment of spared peripheral vision may give rise to cortical thickening. This work furthers our understanding of neural plasticity in the context of adult vision loss.
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