Bethesda, MD (February 3, 2002) -- The federal government records that more than 365,000 Americans under the age of 65 suffer from a severe loss of sight that merits assistance. Among the challenges faced by the suddenly blind is learning Braille, the international system of writing and printing by means of reading raised dots corresponding to letters, numbers, and punctuation.
How can a person who has become sightless learn Braille, allowing access to the printed word? For most, hard work and determination plays a major role. However, new research has demonstrated that the brain compensates for loss of vision, and works to assist the sightless individual in learning Braille.
The ability read Braille depends on remarkable adaptations that connect the somatosensory (sensation relating to the body's superficial and deep parts as contrasted to specialized senses such as sight system to language). Now, a group of St. Louis researchers have hypothesized that the pattern of cortical activations in blind individuals reading Braille would reflect these adaptations. Activations in visual (occipital-temporal), frontal-language, and somatosensory cortex in blind individuals reading Braille have been examined for evidence of differences relative to previously reported studies of sighted subjects reading print or receiving tactile stimulation.
The authors of the study, "Adaptive Changes in Early and Late Blind: A fMRI Study of Braille Reading," are H. Burton, A. Z. Snyder, T. E. Conturo, E. Akbudak, J. M. Ollinger and M. E. Raichle all from the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Their findings appear in the January, 2002 edition of the Journal of Neurophysiology.
In their study, the investigators: