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Temporary blindness may help hearing

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: February 7, 2014 - 6:17 PM

Minimizing a person's sight for as little as a week may help improve the brain's ability to process hearing, neuroscientists have found.

Hey-Kyoung Lee, an associate professor of neuroscience and researcher at the Mind/Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins University, along with biologist Patrick Kanold at the University of Maryland, College Park, examined the relationship between vision and hearing in the brain. Their findings were published in the journal Neuron.

Music experts often cite blind musicians Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles as examples of how a lack of sight can heighten or enhance hearing. Scientists, however, did not fully understand just how that happened until now.

In experiments using mice, researchers were able to uncover how the neural connections in the area of the brain that manages vision and hearing work together to support each sense. These findings could help those experiencing hearing loss regain more use of that sense.

"In my opinion, the coolest aspect of our work is that the loss of one sense—vision—can augment the processing of the remaining sense, in this case, hearing, by altering the brain circuit, which is not easily done in adults," Lee said.

"By temporarily preventing vision, we may be able to engage the adult brain to now change the circuit to better process sound, which can be helpful for recovering sound perception in patients with cochlear implants, for example."

Read more from Johns Hopkins.
 

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