The Role of Visual Experience in Individual Differences of Brain Connectivity

Sriparna Sen, Nanak Nihal Khalsa, Ningcong Tong, Smadar Ovadia-Caro, Xiaoying Wang, Yanchao Bi, Ella Striem-Amit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual cortex organization is highly consistent across individuals. But to what degree does this consistency depend on life experience, in particular sensory experience? In this study, we asked whether visual cortex reorganization in congenital blindness results in connectivity patterns that are particularly variable across individuals, focusing on resting-state functional connectivity (RSFC) patterns from the primary visual cortex. We show that the absence of shared visual experience results in more variable RSFC patterns across blind individuals than sighted controls. Increased variability is specifically found in areas that show a group difference between the blind and sighted in their RSFC. These findings reveal a relationship between brain plasticity and individual variability; reorganization manifests variably across individuals. We further investigated the different patterns of reorganization in the blind, showing that the connectivity to frontal regions, proposed to have a role in the reorganization of the visual cortex of the blind toward higher cognitive roles, is highly variable. Further, we link some of the variability in visual-to-frontal connectivity to another environmental factor-duration of formal education. Together, these findings show a role of postnatal sensory and socioeconomic experience in imposing consistency on brain organization. By revealing the idiosyncratic nature of neural reorganization, these findings highlight the importance of considering individual differences in fitting sensory aids and restoration approaches for vision loss.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The typical visual system is highly consistent across individuals. What are the origins of this consistency? Comparing the consistency of visual cortex connectivity between people born blind and sighted people, we showed that blindness results in higher variability, suggesting a key impact of postnatal individual experience on brain organization. Further, connectivity patterns that changed following blindness were particularly variable, resulting in diverse patterns of brain reorganization. Individual differences in reorganization were also directly affected by nonvisual experiences in the blind (years of formal education). Together, these findings show a role of sensory and socioeconomic experiences in creating individual differences in brain organization and endorse the use of individual profiles for rehabilitation and restoration of vision loss.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5070-5084
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number25
StatePublished - 22 Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Sen et al.


  • brain plasticity
  • development
  • individual differences
  • vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (all)


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