Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Individuals who are deaf since early life may show enhanced performance at some visual tasks, including discrimination of directional motion. The neural substrates of such behavioral enhancements remain difficult to identify in humans, although neural plasticity has been shown for early deaf people in the auditory and association cortices, including the primary auditory cortex (PAC) and STS region, respectively. Here, we investigated whether neural responses in auditory and association cortices of early deaf individuals are reorganized to be sensitive to directional visual motion. To capture direction-selective responses, we recorded fMRI responses frequency-tagged to the 0.1-Hz presentation of central directional (100% coherent random dot) motion persisting for 2 sec contrasted with nondirectional (0% coherent) motion for 8 sec. We found direction-selective responses in the STS region in both deaf and hearing participants, but the extent of activation in the right STS region was 5.5 times larger for deaf participants. Minimal but significant direction-selective responses were also found in the PAC of deaf participants, both at the group level and in five of six individuals. In response to stimuli presented separately in the right and left visual fields, the relative activation across the right and left hemispheres was similar in both the PAC and STS region of deaf participants. Notably, the enhanced right-hemisphere activation could support the right visual field advantage reported previously in behavioral studies. Taken together, these results show that the reorganized auditory cortices of early deaf individuals are sensitive to directional motion. Speculatively, these results suggest that auditory and association regions can be remapped to support enhanced visual performance.