Transcranial magnetic stimulation of the visual cortex induces somatotopically organized qualia in blind subjects

Ron Kupers, Arnaud Fumal, Alain Maertens De Noordhout, Albert Gjedde, Jean Schoenen, Maurice Ptito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


After loss of a particular sensory channel, the deprived cortex can be activated by inputs from other sensory modalities. It is not known whether activation of the rewired cortex evokes subjective experiences characteristic of that cortex or consistent with the rerouted sensory information. In a previous study, blind subjects were trained to perform visual tasks with a tongue display unit, a sensory substitution device that translates visual displays into electrotactile tongue stimulation. This cross-modal sensory stimulation activated their visual cortices. We now extend this finding by using transcranial magnetic stimulation to examine the perceptual correlates of training-induced plastic responses. We find that blind subjects proficient with the use of the tongue display unit report somatopically organized tactile sensations that are referred to the tongue when transcranial magnetic stimulation is applied over the occipital cortex. No such sensations were evoked in trained, blind-folded, seeing control subjects who performed the sensory substitution task equally well. These data show that the perceptual correlate of activity in a given cortical area reflects the characteristics of its novel sensory input source.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13256-13260
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 29 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Blindness
  • Cross-modal plasticity
  • Rewiring
  • Sensation
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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