Publications

2017
Bauer CM, Hirsch GV, Zajac L, Koo B-B, Collignon O, Merabet LB. Multimodal MR-imaging reveals large-scale structural and functional connectivity changes in profound early blindness. PLoS One. 2017;12 (3) :e0173064.Abstract
In the setting of profound ocular blindness, numerous lines of evidence demonstrate the existence of dramatic anatomical and functional changes within the brain. However, previous studies based on a variety of distinct measures have often provided inconsistent findings. To help reconcile this issue, we used a multimodal magnetic resonance (MR)-based imaging approach to provide complementary structural and functional information regarding this neuroplastic reorganization. This included gray matter structural morphometry, high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) of white matter connectivity and integrity, and resting state functional connectivity MRI (rsfcMRI) analysis. When comparing the brains of early blind individuals to sighted controls, we found evidence of co-occurring decreases in cortical volume and cortical thickness within visual processing areas of the occipital and temporal cortices respectively. Increases in cortical volume in the early blind were evident within regions of parietal cortex. Investigating white matter connections using HARDI revealed patterns of increased and decreased connectivity when comparing both groups. In the blind, increased white matter connectivity (indexed by increased fiber number) was predominantly left-lateralized, including between frontal and temporal areas implicated with language processing. Decreases in structural connectivity were evident involving frontal and somatosensory regions as well as between occipital and cingulate cortices. Differences in white matter integrity (as indexed by quantitative anisotropy, or QA) were also in general agreement with observed pattern changes in the number of white matter fibers. Analysis of resting state sequences showed evidence of both increased and decreased functional connectivity in the blind compared to sighted controls. Specifically, increased connectivity was evident between temporal and inferior frontal areas. Decreases in functional connectivity were observed between occipital and frontal and somatosensory-motor areas and between temporal (mainly fusiform and parahippocampus) and parietal, frontal, and other temporal areas. Correlations in white matter connectivity and functional connectivity observed between early blind and sighted controls showed an overall high degree of association. However, comparing the relative changes in white matter and functional connectivity between early blind and sighted controls did not show a significant correlation. In summary, these findings provide complimentary evidence, as well as highlight potential contradictions, regarding the nature of regional and large scale neuroplastic reorganization resulting from early onset blindness.
Rossi A, Gnesi M, Montomoli C, Chirico G, Malerba L, Merabet LB, Fazzi E. Neonatal Assessment Visual European Grid (NAVEG): Unveiling neurological risk. Infant Behav Dev. 2017;49 :21-30.
Zajac L, Koo B-B, Bauer CM, Killiany R, Behalf of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Seed Location Impacts Whole-Brain Structural Network Comparisons between Healthy Elderly and Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease. Brain Sciences. 2017;7 (4}, ARTICLE NUMBER = 7). Publisher's VersionAbstract
Whole-brain networks derived from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data require the identification of seed and target regions of interest (ROIs) to assess connectivity patterns. This study investigated how initiating tracts from gray matter (GM) or white matter (WM) seed ROIs impacts (1) structural networks constructed from DTI data from healthy elderly (control) and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and (2) between-group comparisons using these networks. DTI datasets were obtained from the Alzheimer’s disease Neuroimaging Initiative database. Deterministic tractography was used to build two whole-brain networks for each subject; one in which tracts were initiated from WM ROIs and another in which they were initiated from GM ROIs. With respect to the first goal, in both groups, WM-seeded networks had approximately 400 more connections and stronger connections (as measured by number of streamlines per connection) than GM-seeded networks, but shared 94% of the connections found in the GM-seed networks. With respect to the second goal, between-group comparisons revealed a stronger subnetwork (as measured by number of streamlines per connection) in controls compared to AD using both WM-seeded and GM-seeded networks. The comparison using WM-seeded networks produced a larger (i.e., a greater number of connections) and more significant subnetwork in controls versus AD. Global, local, and nodal efficiency were greater in controls compared to AD, and between-group comparisons of these measures using WM-seeded networks had larger effect sizes than those using GM-seeded networks. These findings affirm that seed location significantly affects the ability to detect between-group differences in structural networks.
Occelli V, Lacey S, Stephens C, Merabet LB, Sathian K. Enhanced verbal abilities in the congenitally blind. Experimental Brain Research. 2017;235 (6) :1709-1718. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Numerous studies have found that congenitally blind individuals have better verbal memory than their normally sighted counterparts. However, it is not known whether this reflects superiority of verbal or memory abilities. In order to distinguish between these possibilities, we tested congenitally blind participants and normally sighted control participants, matched for age and education, on a range of verbal and spatial tasks. Congenitally blind participants were significantly better than sighted controls on all the verbal tasks but the groups did not differ significantly on the spatial tasks. Thus, the congenitally blind appear to have superior verbal, but not spatial, abilities. This may reflect greater reliance on verbal information and the involvement of visual cortex in language processing in the congenitally blind.
Bauer CM, Zajac LE, Koo B-B, Killiany RJ, Merabet LB. Age-related changes in structural connectivity are improved using subject-specific thresholding. Journal of Neuroscience Methods. 2017;288 :45 - 56. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Deterministic diffusion tractography obtained from high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) requires user-defined quantitative anisotropy (QA) thresholds. Most studies employ a common threshold across all subjects even though there is a strong degree of individual variation within groups. We sought to explore whether it would be beneficial to use individual thresholds in order to accommodate individual variance. To do this, we conducted two independent experiments. First, tractography of the arcuate fasciculus and network connectivity measures were examined in a sample of 14 healthy participants. Second, we assessed the effects of QA threshold on group differences in network connectivity measures between healthy young (n=19) and old (n=14) individuals. The results of both experiments were significantly influenced by QA threshold. Common thresholds set too high failed to produce sufficient reconstructions in most subjects, thus decreasing the likelihood of detecting meaningful group differences. On the other hand, common thresholds set too low resulted in spurious reconstructions, providing deleterious results. Subject specific thresholds acquired using our QA threshold selection method (QATS) appeared to provide the most meaningful networks while ensuring that data from all subjects contributed to the analyses. Together, these results support the use of a subject-specific threshold to ensure that data from all subjects are included in the analyses being conducted.
Rossi A, Gnesi M, Montomoli C, Chirico G, Malerba L, Merabet LB, Group NAVEGS, Fazzi E. Neonatal Assessment Visual European Grid (NAVEG): Unveiling neurological risk. Infant Behavior and Development. 2017;49 :21-30. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Evaluation of visual function in newborns is of utmost importance. A tailored non invasive evaluation of visual function in newborns is proposed (NAVEG). NAVEG’s discriminating capability as a marker of brain lesions is evaluated. NAVEG provides information on the early functioning of the visual system.Visualfunction assessment could integrate ophthalmologic and neurologic evaluation. 
Gamond L, Vecchi T, Ferrari C, Merabet LB, Cattaneo Z. Emotion processing in early blind and sighted individuals. Neuropsychology. 2017;31 (5) :516-524. Publisher's VersionAbstract
OBJECTIVE: Emotion processing is known to be mediated by a complex network of cortical and subcortical regions with evidence of specialized hemispheric lateralization within the brain. In light of prior evidence indicating that lateralization of cognitive functions (such as language) may depend on normal visual development, we investigated whether the lack of prior visual experience would have an impact on the development of specialized hemispheric lateralization in emotional processing. METHOD: We addressed this issue by comparing performance in early blind and sighted controls on a dichotic listening task requiring the detection of specific emotional vocalizations (i.e., suggestive of happiness or sadness) presented independently to either ear. RESULTS: Consistent with previous studies, we found that sighted individuals showed enhanced detection of positive vocalizations when presented in the right ear (i.e., processed within the left hemisphere) and negative vocalizations when presented in the left ear (i.e., right hemisphere). It is interesting to note that although blind individuals were as accurate as sighted controls in detecting the valance of the vocalization, performance was not consistent with any pattern of specialized hemispheric lateralization. CONCLUSIONS: Overall, these results suggest that although the lack of prior visual experience may not lead to impaired emotion processing performance, the underlying neurophysiological substrate (i.e., degree of special hemispheric lateralization) may depend on normal visual development. (PsycINFO Database Record
Occelli V, Lacey S, Stephens C, Merabet LB, Sathian K. Enhanced verbal abilities in the congenitally blind. Experimental Brain Research. 2017 :1–10. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Numerous studies have found that congenitally blind individuals have better verbal memory than their normally sighted counterparts. However, it is not known whether this reflects superiority of verbal or memory abilities. In order to distinguish between these possibilities, we tested congenitally blind participants and normally sighted control participants, matched for age and education, on a range of verbal and spatial tasks. Congenitally blind participants were significantly better than sighted controls on all the verbal tasks but the groups did not differ significantly on the spatial tasks. Thus, the congenitally blind appear to have superior verbal, but not spatial, abilities. This may reflect greater reliance on verbal information and the involvement of visual cortex in language processing in the congenitally blind.
Bauer CM, Hirsch GV, Zajac L, Koo B-B, Collignon O, Merabet LB. Multimodal MR-imaging reveals large-scale structural and functional connectivity changes in profound early blindness. PLOS ONE. 2017;12 (3) :1-26. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In the setting of profound ocular blindness, numerous lines of evidence demonstrate the existence of dramatic anatomical and functional changes within the brain. However, previous studies based on a variety of distinct measures have often provided inconsistent findings. To help reconcile this issue, we used a multimodal magnetic resonance (MR)-based imaging approach to provide complementary structural and functional information regarding this neuroplastic reorganization. This included gray matter structural morphometry, high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) of white matter connectivity and integrity, and resting state functional connectivity MRI (rsfcMRI) analysis. When comparing the brains of early blind individuals to sighted controls, we found evidence of co-occurring decreases in cortical volume and cortical thickness within visual processing areas of the occipital and temporal cortices respectively. Increases in cortical volume in the early blind were evident within regions of parietal cortex. Investigating white matter connections using HARDI revealed patterns of increased and decreased connectivity when comparing both groups. In the blind, increased white matter connectivity (indexed by increased fiber number) was predominantly left-lateralized, including between frontal and temporal areas implicated with language processing. Decreases in structural connectivity were evident involving frontal and somatosensory regions as well as between occipital and cingulate cortices. Differences in white matter integrity (as indexed by quantitative anisotropy, or QA) were also in general agreement with observed pattern changes in the number of white matter fibers. Analysis of resting state sequences showed evidence of both increased and decreased functional connectivity in the blind compared to sighted controls. Specifically, increased connectivity was evident between temporal and inferior frontal areas. Decreases in functional connectivity were observed between occipital and frontal and somatosensory-motor areas and between temporal (mainly fusiform and parahippocampus) and parietal, frontal, and other temporal areas. Correlations in white matter connectivity and functional connectivity observed between early blind and sighted controls showed an overall high degree of association. However, comparing the relative changes in white matter and functional connectivity between early blind and sighted controls did not show a significant correlation. In summary, these findings provide complimentary evidence, as well as highlight potential contradictions, regarding the nature of regional and large scale neuroplastic reorganization resulting from early onset blindness.
2016
Martín MBC, Santos-Lozano A, Martín-Hernández J, López-Miguel A, Maldonado M, Baladrón C, Bauer CM, Merabet LB. Cerebral versus Ocular Visual Impairment: The Impact on Developmental Neuroplasticity. Front Psychol. 2016;7 :1958.Abstract
Cortical/cerebral visual impairment (CVI) is clinically defined as significant visual dysfunction caused by injury to visual pathways and structures occurring during early perinatal development. Depending on the location and extent of damage, children with CVI often present with a myriad of visual deficits including decreased visual acuity and impaired visual field function. Most striking, however, are impairments in visual processing and attention which have a significant impact on learning, development, and independence. Within the educational arena, current evidence suggests that strategies designed for individuals with ocular visual impairment are not effective in the case of CVI. We propose that this variance may be related to differences in compensatory neuroplasticity related to the type of visual impairment, as well as underlying alterations in brain structural connectivity. We discuss the etiology and nature of visual impairments related to CVI, and how advanced neuroimaging techniques (i.e., diffusion-based imaging) may help uncover differences between ocular and cerebral causes of visual dysfunction. Revealing these differences may help in developing future strategies for the education and rehabilitation of individuals living with visual impairment.
Merabet LB, Devaney KJ, Bauer CM, Panja A, Heidary G, Somers DC. Characterizing Visual Field Deficits in Cerebral/Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI) Using Combined Diffusion Based Imaging and Functional Retinotopic Mapping: A Case Study. Front Syst Neurosci. 2016;10 :13.
Pinto CB, Saleh Velez FG, Bolognini N, Crandell D, Merabet LB, Fregni F. Optimizing Rehabilitation for Phantom Limb Pain Using Mirror Therapy and Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation: A Randomized, Double-Blind Clinical Trial Study Protocol. JMIR Res Protoc. 2016;5 (3) :e138.Abstract
BACKGROUND: Despite the multiple available pharmacological and behavioral therapies for the management of chronic phantom limb pain (PLP) in lower limb amputees, treatment for this condition is still a major challenge and the results are mixed. Given that PLP is associated with maladaptive brain plasticity, interventions that promote cortical reorganization such as non-invasive brain stimulation and behavioral methods including transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and mirror therapy (MT), respectively, may prove to be beneficial to control pain in PLP. Due to its complementary effects, a combination of tDCS and MT may result in synergistic effects in PLP. OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study is to evaluate the efficacy of tDCS and MT as a rehabilitative tool for the management of PLP in unilateral lower limb amputees. METHODS: A prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, factorial, superiority clinical trial will be carried out. Participants will be eligible if they meet the following inclusion criteria: lower limb unilateral traumatic amputees that present PLP for at least 3 months after the amputated limb has completely healed. Participants (N=132) will be randomly allocated to the following groups: (1) active tDCS and active MT, (2) sham tDCS and active MT, (3) active tDCS and sham MT, and (4) sham tDCS and sham MT. tDCS will be applied with the anodal electrode placed over the primary motor cortex (M1) contralateral to the amputation side and the cathode over the contralateral supraorbital area. Stimulation will be applied at the same time of the MT protocol with the parameters 2 mA for 20 minutes. Pain outcome assessments will be performed at baseline, before and after each intervention session, at the end of MT, and in 2 follow-up visits. In order to assess cortical reorganization and correlate with clinical outcomes, participants will undergo functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) before and after the intervention. RESULTS: This clinical trial received institutional review board (IRB) approval in July of 2015 and enrollment started in December of 2015. To date 2 participants have been enrolled. The estimate enrollment rate is about 30 to 35 patients per year; thus we expect to complete enrollment in 4 years. CONCLUSIONS: This factorial design will provide relevant data to evaluate whether tDCS combined with MT is more effective than each therapy alone, as well as with no intervention (sham/sham) in patients with chronic PLP after unilateral lower limb amputation. In addition, this randomized clinical trial will help to investigate the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the disease, which could potentially provide relevant findings for further management of this chronic condition and also help to optimize the use of this novel intervention. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT02487966; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02487966 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6i3GrKMyf).
Pinto BC, Saleh Velez GF, Bolognini N, Crandell D, Merabet BL, Fregni F. Optimizing Rehabilitation for Phantom Limb Pain Using Mirror Therapy and Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation: A Randomized, Double–Blind Clinical Trial Study Protocol. JMIR Res Protoc. 2016;5 (3) :e138. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Background: Despite the multiple available pharmacological and behavioral therapies for the management of chronic phantom limb pain (PLP) in lower limb amputees, treatment for this condition is still a major challenge and the results are mixed. Given that PLP is associated with maladaptive brain plasticity, interventions that promote cortical reorganization such as non-invasive brain stimulation and behavioral methods including transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and mirror therapy (MT), respectively, may prove to be beneficial to control pain in PLP. Due to its complementary effects, a combination of tDCS and MT may result in synergistic effects in PLP. Objective: The objective of this study is to evaluate the efficacy of tDCS and MT as a rehabilitative tool for the management of PLP in unilateral lower limb amputees. Methods: A prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, factorial, superiority clinical trial will be carried out. Participants will be eligible if they meet the following inclusion criteria: lower limb unilateral traumatic amputees that present PLP for at least 3 months after the amputated limb has completely healed. Participants (N=132) will be randomly allocated to the following groups: (1) active tDCS and active MT, (2) sham tDCS and active MT, (3) active tDCS and sham MT, and (4) sham tDCS and sham MT. tDCS will be applied with the anodal electrode placed over the primary motor cortex (M1) contralateral to the amputation side and the cathode over the contralateral supraorbital area. Stimulation will be applied at the same time of the MT protocol with the parameters 2 mA for 20 minutes. Pain outcome assessments will be performed at baseline, before and after each intervention session, at the end of MT, and in 2 follow-up visits. In order to assess cortical reorganization and correlate with clinical outcomes, participants will undergo functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) before and after the intervention. Results: This clinical trial received institutional review board (IRB) approval in July of 2015 and enrollment started in December of 2015. To date 2 participants have been enrolled. The estimate enrollment rate is about 30 to 35 patients per year; thus we expect to complete enrollment in 4 years. Conclusions: This factorial design will provide relevant data to evaluate whether tDCS combined with MT is more effective than each therapy alone, as well as with no intervention (sham/sham) in patients with chronic PLP after unilateral lower limb amputation. In addition, this randomized clinical trial will help to investigate the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying the disease, which could potentially provide relevant findings for further management of this chronic condition and also help to optimize the use of this novel intervention. Trial Registration: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT02487966; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02487966 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6i3GrKMyf)
Martín MBC, Santos-Lozano A, Martín-Hernández J, López-Miguel A, Maldonado M, Baladrón C, Bauer CM, Merabet LB. Cerebral versus Ocular Visual Impairment: The Impact on Developmental Neuroplasticity. Frontiers in Psychology. 2016;7 :1958. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Cortical/cerebral visual impairment (CVI) is clinically defined as significant visual dysfunction caused by injury to visual pathways and structures occurring during early perinatal development. Depending on the location and extent of damage, children with CVI often present with a myriad of visual deficits including decreased visual acuity and impaired visual field function. Most striking however, are impairments in visual processing and attention which have a significant impact on learning, development, and independence. Within the educational arena, current evidence suggests that strategies designed for individuals with ocular visual impairment are not effective in the case of CVI. We propose that this variance may be related to differences in compensatory neuroplasticity related to the type of visual impairment, as well as underlying alterations in brain structural connectivity. We discuss the etiology and nature of visual impairments related to CVI, and how advanced neuroimaging techniques (i.e. diffusion-based imaging) may help uncover differences between ocular and cerebral causes of visual dysfunction. Revealing these differences may help in developing future strategies for the education and rehabilitation of individuals living with visual impairment.
Merabet LB, Devaney KJ, Bauer CM, Panja A, Heidary G, Somers DC. Characterizing Visual Field Deficits in Cerebral/Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI) Using Combined Diffusion Based Imaging and Functional Retinotopic Mapping: A Case Study. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. 2016;10 (13). Publisher's Version
2015
Bauer C, Yazzolino L, Hirsch G, Cattaneo Z, Vecchi T, Merabet LB. Neural correlates associated with superior tactile symmetry perception in the early blind. Cortex. 2015;63 :104-117.Abstract
Symmetry is an organizational principle that is ubiquitous throughout the visual world. However, this property can also be detected through non-visual modalities such as touch. The role of prior visual experience on detecting tactile patterns containing symmetry remains unclear. We compared the behavioral performance of early blind and sighted (blindfolded) controls on a tactile symmetry detection task. The tactile patterns used were similar in design and complexity as in previous visual perceptual studies. The neural correlates associated with this behavioral task were identified with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In line with growing evidence demonstrating enhanced tactile processing abilities in the blind, we found that early blind individuals showed significantly superior performance in detecting tactile symmetric patterns compared to sighted controls. Furthermore, comparing patterns of activation between these two groups identified common areas of activation (e.g. superior parietal cortex) but key differences also emerged. In particular, tactile symmetry detection in the early blind was also associated with activation that included peri-calcarine cortex, lateral occipital (LO), and middle temporal (MT) cortex, as well as inferior temporal and fusiform cortex. These results contribute to the growing evidence supporting superior behavioral abilities in the blind, and the neural correlates associated with crossmodal neuroplasticity following visual deprivation.
Hirsch GV, Bauer CM, Merabet LB. Using structural and functional brain imaging to uncover how the brain adapts to blindness. Annals of Neuroscience and Psychology. 2015;2 (5). Publisher's VersionAbstract

Advances in neuroimaging technology have been instrumental in uncovering the dramatic neurological changes that result from blindness, as well as revealing the inner workings of the human brain. Specifically, modern imaging techniques enable us to examine how the brain adapts and “re-wires” itself as a result of changes in behavior, the environment, injury, or disease; a process referred to as neuroplasticity. Following an overview of commonly employed neuroimaging techniques, we discuss structural and functional neuroplastic brain changes associated with profound visual deprivation. In particular, we highlight how associated structural changes often occur within areas that process intact senses (such as hearing, touch, and smell) while functional changes tend to implicate areas of the brain normally ascribed to the processing of visual information. Evidence will primarily focus on profound blindness due to ocular cause, but related work in cerebral/cortical visual impairment (CVI) will also be discussed. The potential importance of these findings within the context of education and rehabilitation is proposed.

Rinaldi L, Vecchi T, Fantino M, Merabet LB, Cattaneo Z. The effect of hand movements on numerical bisection judgments in early blind and sighted individuals. Cortex. 2015;71 :76-84.Abstract
Recent evidence suggests that in representing numbers blind individuals might be affected differently by proprioceptive cues (e.g., hand positions, head turns) than are sighted individuals. In this study, we asked a group of early blind and sighted individuals to perform a numerical bisection task while executing hand movements in left or right peripersonal space and with either hand. We found that in bisecting ascending numerical intervals, the hemi-space in which the hand was moved (but not the moved hand itself) influenced the bisection bias similarly in both early blind and sighted participants. However, when numerical intervals were presented in descending order, the moved hand (and not the hemi-space in which it was moved) affected the bisection bias in all participants. Overall, our data show that the operation to be performed on the mental number line affects the activated spatial reference frame, regardless of participants' previous visual experience. In particular, both sighted and early blind individuals' representation of numerical magnitude is mainly rooted in world-centered coordinates when numerical information is given in canonical orientation (i.e., from small to large), whereas hand-centered coordinates become more relevant when the scanning of the mental number line proceeds in non-canonical direction.
Bauer C, Yazzolino L, Hirsch G, Cattaneo Z, Vecchi T, Merabet LB. Neural correlates associated with superior tactile symmetry perception in the early blind. Cortex. 2015;63 :104 - 117. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Abstract Symmetry is an organizational principle that is ubiquitous throughout the visual world. However, this property can also be detected through non-visual modalities such as touch. The role of prior visual experience on detecting tactile patterns containing symmetry remains unclear. We compared the behavioral performance of early blind and sighted (blindfolded) controls on a tactile symmetry detection task. The tactile patterns used were similar in design and complexity as in previous visual perceptual studies. The neural correlates associated with this behavioral task were identified with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In line with growing evidence demonstrating enhanced tactile processing abilities in the blind, we found that early blind individuals showed significantly superior performance in detecting tactile symmetric patterns compared to sighted controls. Furthermore, comparing patterns of activation between these two groups identified common areas of activation (e.g. superior parietal cortex) but key differences also emerged. In particular, tactile symmetry detection in the early blind was also associated with activation that included peri-calcarine cortex, lateral occipital (LO), and middle temporal (MT) cortex, as well as inferior temporal and fusiform cortex. These results contribute to the growing evidence supporting superior behavioral abilities in the blind, and the neural correlates associated with crossmodal neuroplasticity following visual deprivation.
2014
Connors EC, Chrastil ER, Sánchez J, Merabet LB. Action video game play and transfer of navigation and spatial cognition skills in adolescents who are blind. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014;8 :133.Abstract
For individuals who are blind, navigating independently in an unfamiliar environment represents a considerable challenge. Inspired by the rising popularity of video games, we have developed a novel approach to train navigation and spatial cognition skills in adolescents who are blind. Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES) is a software application that allows for the virtual exploration of an existing building set in an action video game metaphor. Using this ludic-based approach to learning, we investigated the ability and efficacy of adolescents with early onset blindness to acquire spatial information gained from the exploration of a target virtual indoor environment. Following game play, participants were assessed on their ability to transfer and mentally manipulate acquired spatial information on a set of navigation tasks carried out in the real environment. Success in transfer of navigation skill performance was markedly high suggesting that interacting with AbES leads to the generation of an accurate spatial mental representation. Furthermore, there was a positive correlation between success in game play and navigation task performance. The role of virtual environments and gaming in the development of mental spatial representations is also discussed. We conclude that this game based learning approach can facilitate the transfer of spatial knowledge and further, can be used by individuals who are blind for the purposes of navigation in real-world environments.

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