Alpha oscillations reveal implicit visual processing of motion in hemianopia. Cortex 122, 81-96.

After lesion or deafferentation of the primary visual cortex, hemianopic patients experience loss of conscious vision in their blind field. However, due to the spared colliculo-extrastriate pathway, they might retain the ability to implicitly process motion stimuli through the activation of spared dorsal-extrastriate areas, despite the absence of awareness. To test this hypothesis, Electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded from a group of hemianopic patients without blindsight (i.e., who performed at chance in different forced-choice tasks), while motion stimuli, static stimuli or no stimuli (i.e., blank condition) were presented either in their intact or in their blind visual field. EEG analyses were performed in the time-frequency domain. The presentation of both motion and static stimuli in the intact field induced synchronization in the theta band and desynchronization both in the alpha and the beta band. In contrast, for stimuli presented in the blind field, significantly greater desynchronization in the alpha range was observed only after the presentation of motion stimuli, compared to the blank condition, over posterior parietal-occipital electrodes in the lesioned hemisphere, at a late time window (500-800 msec). No alpha desynchronization was elicited by static stimuli. These results show that hemianopic patients can process only visual signals relying on the activation of the dorsal pathway (i.e., motion stimuli) in the absence of awareness and suggest different patterns of electrophysiological activity for conscious and unconscious visual processing. Specifically, visual processing in the absence of awareness elicits an activity limited to the alpha range, most likely reflecting a “local” process, occurring within the extrastriate areas and not participating in inter-areal communication. This also suggests a response specificity in this frequency band for implicit visual processing. In contrast, visual awareness evokes changes in different frequency bands, suggesting a “global” process, accomplished by activity in a wide range of frequencies, probably within and across cortical areas.

Effects of different transcranial direct current stimulation protocols on visuo-spatial contextual learning formation: evidence of homeostatic regulatory mechanisms”. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 1-14.

In the present study we tested the effects of different transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) protocols in the formation of visuo-spatial contextual learning (VSCL). The study comprised three experiments designed to evaluate tDCS-induced changes in VSCL measures collected during the execution of a visual search task widely used to examine statistical learning in the visuo-spatial domain. In Experiment 1, we probed for the effects of left-posterior parietal cortex (PPC) anodal-tDCS (AtDCS) at different timings (i.e. offline and online) and intensities (i.e. 3 mA and 1.5 mA). The protocol producing the more robust effect in Experiment 1 was used in Experiment 2 over the right-PPC, while in Experiment 3, cathodal-tDCS (CtDCS) was applied over the left-PPC only at a high intensity (i.e. 3 mA) but varying timing of application (offline and online). Results revealed that high intensity offline AtDCS reduced VSCL regardless of the stimulation side (Experiment 1 and 2), while no significant behavioral changes were produced by both online AtDCS protocols (Experiment 1) and offline/online CtDCS (Experiment 3). The reduced VSCL could result from homeostatic regulatory mechanisms hindering normal task-related neuroplastic phenomena.

“Shaping the visual system: cortical and subcortical plasticity in the intact and the lesioned brain”. Neuropsychologia.

Visual system is endowed with an incredibly complex organization composed of multiple visual pathway affording both hierarchical and parallel processing. Even if most of the visual information is conveyed by the retina to the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus and then to primary visual cortex, a wealth of alternative subcortical pathways is present. This complex organization is experience dependent and retains plastic properties throughout the lifespan enabling the system with a continuous update of its functions in response to variable external needs. Changes can be induced by several factors including learning and experience but can also be promoted by the use non-invasive brain stimulation techniques. Furthermore, besides the astonishing ability of our visual system to spontaneously reorganize after injuries, we now know that the exposure to specific rehabilitative training can produce not only important functional modifications but also long-lasting changes within cortical and subcortical structures. The present review aims to update and address the current state of the art on these topics gathering studies that reported relevant modifications of visual functioning together with plastic changes within cortical and subcortical structures both in the healthy and in the lesioned visual system.

Math Anxiety Mediates the Link Between Number Sense and Math Achievements in High Math Anxiety Young Adults.

In the past few years, many studies have suggested that subjects with high sensory precision in the processing of non-symbolic numerical quantities (approximate number system; ANS) also have higher math abilities. At the same time, there has been interest in another non-cognitive factor affecting mathematical learning: mathematical anxiety (MA). MA is defined as a debilitating emotional reaction to mathematics that interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems. Few studies have been dedicated to uncovering the interplay between ANS and MA and those have provided conflicting evidence. Here we measured ANS precision (numerosity discrimination thresholds) in a cohort of university students with either a high (>75th percentile; n = 49) or low (<25th percentile; n = 39) score on the Abbreviate Math Anxiety Scale (AMAS). We also assessed math proficiency using a standardized test (MPP: Mathematics Prerequisites for Psychometrics), visuo-spatial attention capacity by means of a Multiple Objects Tracking task (MOT) and sensory precision for non-numerical quantities (disk size). Our results confirmed previous studies showing that math abilities and ANS precision correlate in subjects with high math anxiety. Neither precision in size-discrimination nor visuo-spatial attentional capacity were found to correlate with math capacities. Interestingly, within the group with high MA, our data also revealed a relationship between ANS precision and MA, with MA playing a key role in mediating the correlation between ANS and math achievement. Taken together, our results suggest an interplay between extreme levels of MA and the sensory precision in the processing of non-symbolic numerosity.

Motor Adaptation Distorts Visual Space.

It has been suggested that the human visual system exploits an adaptable metric to implement a precise but plastic spatial representation. Indeed, adapting to a dense dot-texture reduces the apparent separation of subsequently presented dots pairs. Whether this metric is purely visual or shared between senses is still unknown. Here we present a new cross-modal after-effect revealing that the metric with which the visual system computes the relative spatial position of objects is shared with the motor system. A few seconds of mid-air self-produced tapping movements (adaptation) yielded a robust compression of the apparent separation of dot pairs subsequently displayed around the tapping region. This visuo-motor spatial metric could reflect an efficient functional architecture to program and execute actions aimed at efficient interaction with the objects in the environment.

Excessive visual crowding effects in developmental dyscalculia

Visual crowding refers to the inability to identify objects when surrounded by other similar items. Crowding-like mechanisms are thought to play a key role in numerical perception by determining the sensory mechanisms through which ensembles are perceived. Enhanced visual crowding might hence prevent the normal development of a system involved in segregating and perceiving discrete numbers of items and ultimately the acquisition of more abstract numerical skills. Here, we investigated whether excessive crowding occurs in developmental dyscalculia (DD), a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulty in learning the most basic numerical and arithmetical concepts, and whether it is found independently of associated major reading and attentional difficulties. We measured spatial crowding in two groups of adult individuals with DD and control subjects. In separate experiments, participants were asked to discriminate the orientation of a Gabor patch either in isolation or under spatial crowding. Orientation discrimination thresholds were comparable across groups when stimuli were shown in isolation, yet they were much higher for the DD group with respect to the control group when the target was crowded by closely neighbouring flanking gratings. The difficulty in discriminating orientation (as reflected by the combination of accuracy and reaction times) in the DD compared to the control group persisted over several larger target flanker distances. Finally, we found that the degree of such spatial crowding correlated with impairments in mathematical abilities even when controlling for visual attention and reading skills. These results suggest that excessive crowding effects might be a characteristic of DD, independent of other associated neurodevelopmental disorders.

Neuroplasticity in adult human visual cortex, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews Volume 112, May 2020, Pages 542-552.

Between 1-5:100 people worldwide have never experienced normotypic vision due to a condition called amblyopia, and about 1:4000 suffer from inherited retinal dystrophies that progressively lead to blindness. While a wide range of technologies and therapies are being developed to restore vision, a fundamental question still remains unanswered: would the adult visual brain retain a sufficient plastic potential to learn how to ‘see’ after a prolonged period of abnormal visual experience? In this review we summarize studies showing that the visual brain of sighted adults retains a type of developmental plasticity, called homeostatic plasticity, and this property has been recently exploited successfully for adult amblyopia recovery. Next, we discuss how the brain circuits reorganize when blindness occurs and when visual stimulation is partially restored by means of a ‘bionic eye’ in late blind adults with Retinitis Pigmentosa. The primary visual cortex in these patients slowly became activated by the artificial visual stimulation, indicating that sight restoration therapies can rely on a considerable degree of spared plasticity in adulthood.

Pupillometry correlates of visual priming, and their dependency on autistic traits