These blind mice hear like Stevie Wonder

Lab mice

Want to hear as well as Stevie Wonder or the late Ray Charles? A blindfold not only might help, it could rewire your brain in the process, a new study suggests.

The study, in mice, was the first to show evidence on a of a phenomenon that has been relatively well chronicled behaviorally - damage to one sense can be compensated with strength in another. And that compensation can happen later in life, when the is generally less susceptible to rewiring, the study found.

Blinding mice for about a week altered synapses connecting the thalamus to the , according to the study, published online Wednesday in the journal Neuron. The changes in hearing acuity were not due to recruitment of vision neurons, which remained unchanged, while those in the auditory cortex exhibited more sensitivity and discrimination among sounds, the study showed.

"We always thought that the adult brain just couldn't change, and there was some evidence supporting this," said study author Hey-Kyoung Lee, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University's Mind/Brain Institute. "The plasticity is really reduced. The surprise here was that we were able to regain that by depriving vision. And it's not the visual area that changes; it's actually the auditory area that changes. So we were doubly surprised by the findings that we had."

The improvements also were dependent on experience - deafened mice that had been subjected to the weeklong blinding did not experience the changes in auditory synapse activity, according to the study, which also involved the University of Maryland.

Researchers believe they have described a kind of crossed synergy in the brain - one sensory area induces another to be more amenable to change, even though its own architecture remains relatively inflexible.

In the brain, then, it takes a village to create a Stevie Wonder.

Related Stories

A short stay in darkness may heal hearing woes

date Feb 05, 2014

Call it the Ray Charles Effect: a young child who is blind develops a keen ability to hear things that others cannot. Researchers have long known that very young brains are malleable enough to re-wire some ...

Does a looser mind lead to faster learning?

date Feb 05, 2014

You wouldn't think that dissolving part of the brain, particularly one that helps hold the organ together, would help a gerbil rethink a problem. But that's exactly what a team of German scientists has done.

Recommended for you

Long-term memories are maintained by prion-like proteins

date 5 hours ago

Research from Eric Kandel's lab at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) has uncovered further evidence of a system in the brain that persistently maintains memories for long periods of time. And paradoxically, ...

Water to understand the brain

date 7 hours ago

To observe the brain in action, scientists and physicians use imaging techniques, among which functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is the best known. These techniques are not based on direct observations ...

Scientists reveal more about how memories are formed

date 10 hours ago

Researchers at the University of Leicester working alongside colleagues in the US, have found that nerve cells in a brain region called the medial temporal lobe play a key role in the rapid formation of new memories about ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.