Plasticity of Brain: New Strategies to Improve Vision

Can our brains learn to see again after vision loss? And is it also possible that the healthy brain draws on resources that allow us to improve our vision significantly beyond 20/20? These fascinating and up-to-the-minute questions are the focus of the symposium “Adaptation, Perceptual Learning, and Plasticity of Brain Functions”, held on Saturday, October 3, 2015, 8 am through 9:30 am. The symposium, which will be in English, will offer several perspectives on the topic. To kick off the session, Professor Jonathan Horton (San Francisco) will present new neuro-anatomical studies on the vascular supply to the visual cortex that help explain typical visual field loss patterns as a result of cortex damage. The studies indicate that contrary to what some training methods suggest, visual field defects following apoplexy cannot recover along a continuous line parallel to the vertical meridian of the cornea.

Professor Susanne Trauzettel-Klosinski will then demonstrate how a simple eye movement training helps compensate visual field loss, e.g. after a stroke. Explorative saccade training uses search exercises in order to teach patients to systematically scan the blind side within their visual fields and to supplement the missing information in the field of vision. This strategy makes use of the brain’s compensatory plasticity. A randomized, controlled study has shown that six-weeks of training improve spatial orientation even when vision loss had been continuing for years, thus enhancing patients’ quality of life.

Next, Professor Theo Mulder (Amsterdam) will speak about the specific possibilities for adaptation and plasticity in the motoric system. The interactions between perception, activity, and knowledge allow for continuous updates based on sensory input and activity. This offers new opportunities for rehabilitation.

A key insight is that the primary visual cortex is alterable, even in adulthood. This means that the concept of perceptual learning can be applied to sensory perception. Ophthalmologist and neurobiologist Professor Manfred Fahle, (Bremen) will explain how smart exercises can be used to achieve retinal hyper-resolution.