Scientists Examine How the Brain Integrates Sight, Touch, and Sound
WASHINGTON, DC — New research illustrates the importance of the brain’s ability to integrate different senses — sight, sound, and touch — and how the brain can adapt when those sensory inputs change. The findings indicate new insight into understanding autism and potential approaches for improving the functioning of people who have lost hearing or other senses. The findings were presented today at Neuroscience 2014, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
An estimated 52 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, and hearing loss affects more than 250 million people globally. Thus, understanding how the brain integrates senses and affects people’s perception of the world around them could offer valuable insights for helping a wide array of people — including those with developmental disabilities or sensory impairments.
Today’s new findings show that:
- To adapt to deafness, a brain region typically devoted to merging vision and hearing repurposes to strengthening peripheral vision instead (Jenessa Seymour, BA, 623.11, see attached summary).
- A brain region involved in integrating vision and hearing operates differently in people with autism spectrum disorders (Ryan Stevenson, PhD, 331.18, see attached summary).
- Years after a hand transplant or reattachment, brain centers responsible for movement and sense of touch continue to reorganize and have improved function (Scott Frey, PhD, 731.03, see attached summary).
- The degree of pleasure derived from a gentle touch is linked to the distribution of a specialized type of nerve fiber (Susannah Walker, PhD, 339.14, see attached summary).
“This new research deepens our understanding of how communication occurs within and across brain regions to integrate our various senses,” said moderator Gordon Shepherd, PhD, of Yale University School of Medicine, an expert on how the brain processes information. “It reveals new and previously unrecognized ways the brain adapts when faced with unprecedented challenges to sensory perception.”
This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health as well as other private and philanthropic organizations. Find out more about how the brain integrates the senses at BrainFacts.org.