Visual deprivation early in life results in occipital cortical responsiveness across a broad range of perceptual and cognitive tasks. In the reorganized occipital cortex of early blind (EB) individuals, the relative lack of specificity for particular sensory stimuli and tasks suggests that attention effects may play a prominent role in these areas. We wished to establish whether occipital cortical areas in the EB were responsive to stimuli across sensory modalities (auditory, tactile) and whether these areas maintained or altered their activity as a function of selective attention. Using a three-stimulus oddball paradigm and event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging, auditory and tactile tasks presented separately demonstrated that several occipital regions of interest (ROIs) in the EB, but not sighted controls (SCs), responded to targets and task-irrelevant distracter stimuli of both modalities. When auditory and tactile stimuli were presented simultaneously with subjects alternating attention between sensory streams, only the calcarine sulcus continued to respond to stimuli in both modalities. In all other ROIs, responses to auditory targets were as large or larger than those observed in the auditory-alone condition, but responses to tactile targets were attenuated or abolished by the presence of unattended auditory stimuli. Both auditory and somatosensory cortices responded consistently to auditory and tactile targets, respectively. These results reveal mechanisms of orienting and selective attention within the visual cortex of EB individuals and suggest that mechanisms of enhancement and suppression interact asymmetrically on auditory and tactile streams during bimodal sensory presentation.

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