Does Congenital Deafness Affect the Structural and Functional Architecture of Primary Visual Cortex?

C.R. Smittenaar1, *, M. MacSweeney2, 3, M.I. Sereno1, 4, D.S. Schwarzkopf1, 2
1 Experimental Psychology, University College London 26 Bedford Way, WC1H 0AP, London
2 Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, 17 Queen Square, WC1N 3AR, London
3 Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre, University College London, 49 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PD, London
4 Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, WC1E 7HX, London

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© Smittenaar et al.; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 International Public License (CC BY-NC 4.0) (, which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Experimental Psychology, University College London 26 Bedford Way, WC1H 0AP, London; Tel: 07920402862; E-mail:


Deafness results in greater reliance on the remaining senses. It is unknown whether the cortical architecture of the intact senses is optimized to compensate for lost input. Here we performed widefield population receptive field (pRF) mapping of primary visual cortex (V1) with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in hearing and congenitally deaf participants, all of whom had learnt sign language after the age of 10 years. We found larger pRFs encoding the peripheral visual field of deaf compared to hearing participants. This was likely driven by larger facilitatory center zones of the pRF profile concentrated in the near and far periphery in the deaf group. pRF density was comparable between groups, indicating pRFs overlapped more in the deaf group. This could suggest that a coarse coding strategy underlies enhanced peripheral visual skills in deaf people. Cortical thickness was also decreased in V1 in the deaf group. These findings suggest deafness causes structural and functional plasticity at the earliest stages of visual cortex.

Keywords: Deafness, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), primary visual cortex (V1), peripheral visual field (PVF).