According to the canonical view, the brain processes sensory input in dedicated and distinct systems: the visual system, the somatosensory and so forth. The metamodal view in contrast sees the brain is a flexible task machine, in which each area supports a specific task, computation or representation, irrespective of the sensory modality of the input.
We have recently provided evidence in support of the metamodal view in an fMRI experiment with blind Braille readers. Within the ventral visual areas, a region known as the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) develops expertise for reading in the sighted. We found that that Braille-reading activation in congenitally blind peaked in the visual areas in the VWFA with astonishing anatomical consistency (Reich, Szwed et al., 2011). The VWFA thus could specialize in reading regardless of sensory modality.
Here I want to carry out a critical test of the metamodal theory. I want find out whether learning Braille causes the VWFA to become metamodal in sighted subjects with a “normal” visual system, even without the large-scale plasticity that goes on in congenitally blind. I plan to compare brain activity and structure before learning Braille and at the end of training, when sighted subjects have become fluent Braille readers. My project combines functional and structural MRI with a long term learning approach in a special subject population and could bring about a fundamental change in our understanding of the brain.
After 11 years abroad (Weizmann, Israel/INSERM, France) I’m returning to Poland when MRI tools have just become available and neuroimaging leaders are especially needed. Coming at an opportune moment, this grant could significantly boost my long term-integration. The proposal involves transfer of my knowledge to my teams’ PhD students (through training) and to research teams at my own and other Polish institutions (collaborations). It would also allow my lab to grow and establish me as one of key players in the field.
Call for proposal
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