Visual cortex activation in bilingual blind individuals during use of native and second language

Renana H. Ofan, Ehud Zohary*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Recent neuroimaging and transcranial magnetic stimulation studies indicate that the occipital cortex of congenitally blind humans is functionally relevant for nonvisual tasks. There are suggestions that the underlying cortical reorganization is restricted by a critical period. These results were based on comparison between early and late blind groups, thereby facing the problem of great variability among individuals within each group. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we studied bilingual congenitally blind individuals during use of 2 languages: one acquired early (Hebrew), the other later in life (English, at ∼10 years). The subjects listened to chimeric words consisting of superimposed Hebrew and English nouns. They were instructed to either covertly generate a verb to the heard noun or repeat the noun, in either Hebrew or English. Lateralized activation during verb generation (vs. repeat) was found in classical language areas, in congruence with previous studies in sighted subjects. Critically, in our study, the blind participants typically also had robust left lateralized occipital differential activation during verb generation (vs. repeat), in both languages. This suggests that the critical period for plasticity persists beyond 10 years or that the visual cortex of the blind might be engaged in abstract levels of language processing, common to the 2 languages.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1249-1259
Number of pages11
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank N. Raz for her help throughout this study, A. Amedi for insightful suggestions, T. Orlov for the help with the 3-dimensional cortex reconstructions, and I. Rabinowitch and G. Jacobson for help with stimuli preparations. This study was funded by the McDonnell-Pew foundation grant #220020046. Conflict of Interest: None declared.


  • Congenital blindness
  • Cortical plasticity
  • Critical period
  • Second language
  • fMRI


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