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Sight sounds off in brains of the deaf

The brain increasingly looks like a sensory opportunist. Deprive the master organ of access to sounds, a new study finds, and it reorganizes so that tissue typically consigned to handling acoustic information instead joins the visual system.

That resilient strategy plays out in the brains of young adults who have been deaf for all or most of their lives, according to brain-imaging data slated to appear in Nature Neuroscience. Three brain regions that handle incoming sounds–each located on the right side of the so-called auditory cortex–showed surges of activity as deaf volunteers completed visual tasks, report psychologist Eva M. Finney of the University of California, San Diego and her colleagues.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study six deaf and six hearing adults. The technique tracks brain activity by measuring changes in blood flow throughout the brain. Each group contained three men and three women.

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