In blind, occipital cortex showed robust activation to nonvisual stimuli in many prior functional neuroimaging studies. The cognitive processes represented by these activations are not fully determined, although a verbal recognition memory role has been demonstrated. In congenitally blind and sighted (10 per group), we contrasted responses to a vibrotactile one-back frequency retention task with 5-s delays and a vibrotactile amplitude-change task; both tasks involved the same vibration parameters. The one-back paradigm required continuous updating for working memory (WM). Findings in both groups confirmed roles in WM for right hemisphere dorsolateral prefrontal (DLPFC) and dorsal/ventral attention components of posterior parietal cortex. Negative findings in bilateral ventrolateral prefrontal cortex suggested task performance without subvocalization. In bilateral occipital cortex, blind showed comparable positive responses to both tasks, whereas WM evoked large negative responses in sighted. Greater utilization of attention resources in blind were suggested as causing larger responses in dorsal and ventral attention systems, right DLPFC, and persistent responses across delays between trials in somatosensory and premotor cortex. In sighted, responses in somatosensory and premotor areas showed iterated peaks matched to stimulation trial intervals. The findings in occipital cortex of blind suggest that tactile activations do not represent cognitive operations for nonverbal WM task. However, these data suggest a role in sensory processing for tactile information in blind that parallels a similar contribution for visual stimuli in occipital cortex of sighted.
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