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Vision Loss Boosts Auditory Perception

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Image of green specks with blobs of blue centered around a large red blob with tentacles

Caption: A neuron (red) in the auditory cortex of a mouse brain receives input from axons projecting from the thalamus (green). Also shown are the nuclei (blue) of other cells.
Credit: Emily Petrus, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

Many people with vision loss—including such gifted musicians as the late Doc Watson (my favorite guitar picker), Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bocelli, and the Blind Boys of Alabama—are thought to have supersensitive hearing. They are often much better at discriminating pitch, locating the origin of sounds, and hearing softer tones than people who can see. Now, a new animal study suggests that even a relatively brief period of simulated blindness may have the power to enhance hearing among those with normal vision.

In the study, NIH-funded researchers at the University of Maryland in College Park, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, found that when they kept adult mice in complete darkness for one week, the animals’ ability to hear significantly improved [1]. What’s more, when they examined the animals’ brains, the researchers detected changes in the connections among neurons in the part of the brain where sound is processed, the auditory cortex.


A White Halloween Costume That’s Not a Ghost

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Photo of a tall man in glasses wearing a tie looking down at a young boy wearing play glasses, a tie, a white coat, and a stethoscope.

Caption: Dr. Jay Rubinstein and his mini-me, Landon Browne
Credit: Courtesy of Mary Guiden, Seattle Children’s Hospital

What costume to wear for Halloween? For many kids, it’s a difficult choice, but not so for 7-year-old Landon Browne. This year, he’s not going as a zombie or an action hero—he’s going as an NIH-funded researcher!

Landon, who was born almost completely deaf, has decided to dress up as his real-life superhero: Jay Rubinstein, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-scientist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who performed the surgeries that have enabled the boy to hear.


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