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Stimulated Blindness Helps In Reviving Hearing

Update Date: Feb 06, 2014 10:17 AM EST

If a person's sight is reduced to a minimum extent, it might help improve the brain's ability to process hearing, a new study has found. 

Neuroscientists at the Mind/Brain Institute at the Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland, College Park examined the relationship between vision and hearing in the brain. 

Citing examples of blind musicians like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, researchers concluded that lack of sight can certainly heighten and enhance the hearing. 

"In my opinion, the coolest aspect of our work is that the loss of one sense - vision - can augment the processing of the remaining sense, in this case, hearing, by altering the brain circuit, which is not easily done in adults," said Hey-Kyoung Lee, an associate professor of neuroscience and researcher and co-author of the study, in the press release.

"By temporarily preventing vision, we may be able to engage the adult brain to now change the circuit to better process sound, which can be helpful for recovering sound perception in patients with cochlear implants for example," she said.

Performing their experiments on mice, researchers uncovered how the neural connections in the area of the brain that manages vision and hearing worked in conjunction to support each sense. 

They placed a healthy adult mice in a darker environment for stimulating blindness for about a week. They monitored their responses to certain sounds. 

When researches compared the responses and the brain activity of that group of mice to the one who were in traditionally lit environment, disparity in the activity was observed. 

"Our result would say that not having vision allows you to hear softer sounds and better discriminate pitch," added Lee, in the press release. "If you ever had to hear a familiar piece of music with a loud background noise, you would have noticed that sometimes it seems the beat or the melody is different, because some of the notes are lost with the background. Our work would suggest that if you don't have vision you can now rescue these 'lost' notes to now appreciate the music as is."

The findings are published in the journal Neuron.

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