Blindness is known to alter the responsiveness of visual cortex. Recently, reversible visual deprivation by blindfolding has been shown to affect non-visual abilities as well as visual cortical function. Here we investigated the effect of 2 h of blindfolding on cerebral cortical activation patterns during tactile form perception, using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Two form tasks were used, one requiring discrimination of global stimulus form and the other, detection of a gap in a bar. Blindfolded subjects showed significant deactivation during these tasks in regions that are intermediate in the hierarchy of visual shape processing: probable V3A and ventral intraparietal sulcus (vIPS). These regions lacked signal changes in controls. There were also task-specific increases in activation in blindfolded relative to control subjects, favoring the form over the gap task, along the IPS and in regions of frontal and temporal cortex. We also found alterations of functional connectivity that corresponded to the activity differences, with the emergence of correlated activity between the vIPS and V3A in blindfolded subjects. We conclude that blindfolding sighted individuals for a 2-h period induces significant changes in the neural processing of tactile form, probably reflecting short-term neural plasticity.
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