AMIR AMEDI, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Title: An updated view on the origins of cortical selectivity in the Human Brain
Ebbinghaus Empire Series 2016-2017
Abstract:The main goal of the talk will be to discuss the origins of brain specialization and its flexibility across the lifespan. In the first part of the talk I will describe the extent and timescale with which sensory cortices can be recruited and modified by inputs coming from various natural or artificial sensory input modalities or even when conveying high-level cognitive information like language and memory. Our approach uses sensory substitution devices (SSDs) - non-invasive devices that embedded visual information in sound-sheets (aka soundscapes). I will focus on work with the EyeMusic we developed which use music to provide complex visual information to blind (e.g. recognize facial expressions - for examples see www.brainvisionrehab.com). We then use longitudinal studies in individuals with various degrees of visual deprivation, ranging from sighted-blindfolded to lifelong deprivation in patients with undeveloped retinas that learn to see with the ears. Our main hypothesis is that computational tasks, cognitive goals and partially innate network connectivity patterns, rather than sensory input per se, drive the emergence of brain specializations even after the critical periods. I will also discuss implications for clinical rehabilitation including the development of a multisensory approach to restore vision (e.g. the multisensory bionic eye). In the second part of the talk I will suggest a similar approaches can be used to create Novel Sensory Experiences and Augmenting technologies. I will then ask how does the brain process these new experiences? To what extent are its functional specializations and organization principles be considered to be predefined by evolution and locked after critical periods (i.e. early in life)? By presenting an overview of our findings I will question classical theories of 'critical periods' by showing that "visual" regions do maintain their specific typical functionality and functional connectivity patterns even if "reawakened" in later periods in life including adulthood. Overall, through our approach and findings, new insights will emerge into the effects of learning and trainingon the organization principles of the human brain.
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