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Tomasello, R., Carriere, M., Pulvermüller, F.: The impact of early and late blindness on language and verbal working memory: A brain-constrained neural model.

News vom 08.04.2024

Tomasello, R., Carriere, M., Pulvermüller, F. (2024). The impact of early and late blindness on language and verbal working memory: A brain-constrained neural model. Neuropsychologia, 195:108816. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2024.108816

  • Brain-constrained model explains neuroplastic changes due to visual deprivation.
  • Visual cortex recruitment varies in early vs. late blindness.
  • Neural expansion and availability explain neuroplastic differences.
  • Neuroplasticity may enhance neural correlates of verbal working memory mechanisms.


Neural circuits related to language exhibit a remarkable ability to reorganize and adapt in response to visual deprivation. Particularly, early and late blindness induce distinct neuroplastic changes in the visual cortex, repurposing it for language and semantic processing. Interestingly, these functional changes provoke a unique cognitive advantage – enhanced verbal working memory, particularly in early blindness. Yet, the underlying neuromechanisms and the impact on language and memory-related circuits remain not fully understood. Here, we applied a brain-constrained neural network mimicking the structural and functional features of the frontotemporal-occipital cortices, to model conceptual acquisition in early and late blindness. The results revealed differential expansion of conceptual-related neural circuits into deprived visual areas depending on the timing of visual loss, which is most prominent in early blindness. This neural recruitment is fundamentally governed by the biological principles of neural circuit expansion and the absence of uncorrelated sensory input. Critically, the degree of these changes is constrained by the availability of neural matter previously allocated to visual experiences, as in the case of late blindness. Moreover, we shed light on the implication of visual deprivation on the neural underpinnings of verbal working memory, revealing longer reverberatory neural activity in ‘blind models’ as compared to the sighted ones. These findings provide a better understanding of the interplay between visual deprivations, neuroplasticity, language processing and verbal working memory.

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