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Research Lecture Series Visual Cortex Experience-Independent Development

Please join Dr. Ella Streim-Amit, PhD, Harvard University, as she presents, “Visual Cortex Experience-Independent Development.” The lecture will take place on January 30, 2018 as part of the Research Lecture Series in Lecture Hall 2. All are welcome to attend. One hour of Mass CE will be awarded. Please join us for a light reception in Conference Room 1 following the lecture.

Abstract: What forces guide brain organization and its plasticity? How does being born blind, deaf, or without hands affect brain structure and function? When a brain region is deprived of its typical input, what dictates its role? And how can this knowledge direct sensory restoration efforts?

I present studies conducted on a group of congenitally blind people using sensory substitution (a transformation of images into sounds) which show that visual experience is not critically required for visual cortex organization. Studies on a different cohort, of people born without hands, show that sensory-motor experience and mirroring are not required for action observation patterns. Together these data suggest that association visual cortex organization is independent of experience in any one sensory or motor modality. Instead, it appears to rely on innate (prenatal) constraints and computation preferences that can be performed regardless of the input modality. Network organization in the early (retinotopic, tonotopic) topographic cortices in the congenitally blind and deaf respectively also develops in the absence of sensory experience during critical developmental periods.