Simultaneous Assessment of White Matter Changes in Microstructure and Connectedness in the Blind Brain

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the human brain has provided converging evidence that visual deprivation induces regional changes in white matter (WM) microstructure. It remains unclear how these changes modify network connections between brain regions. Here we used diffusion-weighted MRI to relate differences in microstructure and structural connectedness of WM in individuals with congenital or late-onset blindness relative to normally sighted controls. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) provided voxel-specific microstructural features of the tissue, while anatomical connectivity mapping (ACM) assessed the connectedness of each voxel with the rest of the brain. ACM yielded reduced anatomical connectivity in the corpus callosum in individuals with congenital but not late-onset blindness. ACM did not identify any brain region where blindness resulted in increased anatomical connectivity. DTI revealed widespread microstructural differences as indexed by a reduced regional fractional anisotropy (FA). Blind individuals showed lower FA in the primary visual and the ventral visual processing stream relative to sighted controls regardless of the blindness onset. The results show that visual deprivation shapes WM microstructure and anatomical connectivity, but these changes appear to be spatially dissociated as changes emerge in different WM tracts. They also indicate that regional differences in anatomical connectivity depend on the onset of blindness.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6029241
JournalNeural Plasticity
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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