Reorganization of Visual Processing in Macular Degeneration

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Baker, Chris I.; Peli, Eli; Knouf, Nicholas; Kanwisher, Nancy G.


Journal of Neuroscience, Volume 25, Number 3, p.614–618 (2005)



Macular degeneration (MD), the leading cause of visual impairment in the developed world, damages the central retina, often obliterating foveal vision and severely disrupting everyday tasks such as reading, driving, and face recognition. In such cases, the macular damage eliminates the normal retinal input to a large region of visual cortex, comprising tens of square centimeters of surface area in each hemisphere, which is normally responsive only to foveal stimuli. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we asked whether this deprived cortex simply becomes inactive in subjects with MD, or whether it takes on new functional properties. In two adult MD subjects with extensive bilateral central retinal lesions, we found that parts of visual cortex (including primary visual cortex) that normally respond only to central visual stimuli are strongly activated by peripheral stimuli. Such activation was not observed (1) with visual stimuli presented to the position of the former fovea and (2) in control subjects with visual stimuli presented to corresponding parts of peripheral retina. These results demonstrate large-scale reorganization of visual processing in MD and will likely prove important in any effort to develop new strategies for rehabilitation of MD subjects.

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