Neurophysiological mechanisms underlying plastic changes and rehabilitation following sensory loss in blindness and deafness


Striem-Amit E, Bubic A, Amedi A. Neurophysiological mechanisms underlying plastic changes and rehabilitation following sensory loss in blindness and deafness. In: Murray MM, Wallace MT Frontiers in the Neural Bases of Multisensory Processes. Oxford, UK: Taylor and Francis ; 2011.


In order to capture the “magic” of these rehabilitation approaches and illustrate how surprisingly efficient they might be if proper training is applied, we will begin this chapter by presenting some of these exciting new solutions and briefly discuss the rehabilitation outcomes currently associated with them. To better understand the mechanisms mediating such outcomes and appreciate the remaining challenges that need to be overcome, in the second part of the chapter we provide a more theoretical illustration of neuroplastic changes associated with the use of these devices. In particular, we show that these changes are not “magic” nor in any way restricted to the use of the presented rehabilitation techniques. On the contrary, these techniques are designed in order to exploit and channel the brain’s natural potential for change. This potential is present in all individuals, but may become somewhat more accentuated in the brains of the sensory-impaired, as the lack of one sensory modality leaves vast cortical regions free of their typical input and triggers a reorganization of such cortices and their integration into other brain networks. This reorganization is constrained and channeled by the individual’s own activity, information available from the environment, as well as intrinsic properties of the neural system promoting or limiting such changes during different periods in life. Importantly, such restructuring is crucial for enabling the cognitive changes that also occur after sensory loss, allowing the sensory-impaired individuals to efficiently function in their environment. Specifically, successfully dealing with sensory impairment often results in collateral benefits, which include better differentiation and higher efficiency of nonvisual sensory or other cognitive functions. Many of the neural and cognitive changes triggered by sensory loss will be reviewed in the second part of the chapter, illustrating how they rely on the same mechanisms as those underlying the successful outcomes of novel rehabilitation techniques, which will now be presented.

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Last updated on 12/08/2015