Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Confronted with the loss of one type of sensory input, we compensate using information conveyed by other senses. However, losing one type of sensory information at specific developmental times may lead to deficits across all sensory modalities. We addressed the effect of auditory deprivation on the development of tactile abilities, taking into account changes occurring at the behavioral and cortical level. Congenitally deaf and hearing individuals performed two tactile tasks, the first requiring the discrimination of the temporal duration of touches and the second requiring the discrimination of their spatial length. Compared with hearing individuals, deaf individuals were impaired only in tactile temporal processing. To explore the neural substrate of this difference, we ran a TMS experiment. In deaf individuals, the auditory association cortex was involved in temporal and spatial tactile processing, with the same chronometry as the primary somatosensory cortex. In hearing participants, the involvement of auditory association cortex occurred at a later stage and selectively for temporal discrimination. The different chronometry in the recruitment of the auditory cortex in deaf individuals correlated with the tactile temporal impairment. Thus, early hearing experience seems to be crucial to develop an efficient temporal processing across modalities, suggesting that plasticity does not necessarily result in behavioral compensation.