Brain circuits that normally handle information from the eyes can switch gears in blind people and help them feel with their fingers instead, according to a study in the Sept. 11 issue of Nature. The finding may help explain why some studies have found that blind people have a more acute sense of touch.
The research represents the first direct evidence that a brain region wired to work for one of the senses can go to work for a different sense. Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke disrupted the workings of the visual cortex, which is important in vision but not normally in touch, temporarily in 10 Braille readers by sending a small magnetic field through the scalp. When this region was disrupted, the subjects were not able to read Braille as well.