SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • early blind;
  • virtual environments;
  • navigation;
  • way finding;
  • path integration;
  • posterior parietal cortex;
  • temporal parietal junction

ABSTRACT

Navigating is a complex cognitive task that places high demands on spatial abilities, particularly in the absence of sight. Significant advances have been made in identifying the neural correlates associated with various aspects of this skill; however, how the brain is able to navigate in the absence of visual experience remains poorly understood. Furthermore, how neural network activity relates to the wide variability in navigational independence and skill in the blind population is also unknown. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated the neural correlates of audio-based navigation within a large scale, indoor virtual environment in early profoundly blind participants with differing levels of spatial navigation independence (assessed by the Santa Barbara Sense of Direction scale). Performing path integration tasks in the virtual environment was associated with activation within areas of a core network implicated in navigation. Furthermore, we found a positive relationship between Santa Barbara Sense of Direction scores and activation within right temporal parietal junction during the planning and execution phases of the task. These findings suggest that differential navigational ability in the blind may be related to the utilization of different brain network structures. Further characterization of the factors that influence network activity may have important implications regarding how this skill is taught in the blind community. Hum Brain Mapp 35:2768–2778, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.