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Neuronal populations in the occipital cortex of the blind synchronize to the temporal dynamics of speech

  1. Markus Johannes Van Ackeren
  2. Francesca M Barbero
  3. Stefania Mattioni
  4. Roberto Bottini
  5. Olivier Collignon  Is a corresponding author
  1. University of Trento, Italy
  2. University of Louvain, Belgium
Research Article
  • Cited 3
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Cite this article as: eLife 2018;7:e31640 doi: 10.7554/eLife.31640

Abstract

The occipital cortex of early blind individuals (EB) activates during speech processing, challenging the notion of a hard-wired neurobiology of language. But, at what stage of speech processing do occipital regions participate in EB? Here we demonstrate that parieto-occipital regions in EB enhance their synchronization to acoustic fluctuations in human speech in the theta-range (corresponding to syllabic rate), irrespective of speech intelligibility. Crucially, enhanced synchronization to the intelligibility of speech was selectively observed in primary visual cortex in EB, suggesting that this region is at the interface between speech perception and comprehension. Moreover, EB showed overall enhanced functional connectivity between temporal and occipital cortices sensitive to speech intelligibility and altered directionality when compared to the sighted group. These findings suggest that the occipital cortex of the blind adopts an architecture allowing the tracking of speech material, and therefore does not fully abstract from the reorganized sensory inputs it receives.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Markus Johannes Van Ackeren

    Center for Mind/Brain Studies, University of Trento, Trento, Italy
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  2. Francesca M Barbero

    Institute of Research in Psychology, University of Louvain, Louvain, Belgium
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Stefania Mattioni

    Center for Mind/Brain Studies, University of Trento, Trento, Italy
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Roberto Bottini

    Center for Mind/Brain Studies, University of Trento, Trento, Italy
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  5. Olivier Collignon

    Center for Mind/Brain Studies, University of Trento, Trento, Italy
    For correspondence
    olivier.collignon@uclouvain.be
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-1882-3550

Funding

H2020 European Research Council (337573)

  • Markus Johannes Van Ackeren
  • Stefania Mattioni
  • Roberto Bottini
  • Olivier Collignon

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Ethics

Human subjects: The project was approved by the local ethical committee at the University of Trento (protocol 2014-007). In agreement with the Declaration of Helsinki, all participants provided written informed consent to participate in the study.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Andrew J King, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Publication history

  1. Received: August 30, 2017
  2. Accepted: January 16, 2018
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: January 17, 2018 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: January 30, 2018 (version 2)
  5. Version of Record updated: February 13, 2018 (version 3)

Copyright

© 2018, Van Ackeren et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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