Research Topic

Visual handicap, cortical plasticity and rehabilitation

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About this Research Topic

Visual handicap can affect both sensory and motor aspects of visual function. According to the WHO, sensory visual handicap affects as much as 285 million people of all ages worldwide: 86% have low vision while 14% are totally blind (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs282/en/). And the incidence of ...

Visual handicap can affect both sensory and motor aspects of visual function. According to the WHO, sensory visual handicap affects as much as 285 million people of all ages worldwide: 86% have low vision while 14% are totally blind (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs282/en/). And the incidence of visual dysfunctions continues to grow inexorably especially because of ageing. Thus visual handicap constitutes a major medical and socio-economic challenge for now and the future.

The origins of visual disorders are numerous because the etiologies are multiple: innate or acquired, peripheral or central, early or late... Most acquired visual impairments (e.g. age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetes related low vision, glaucoma…) could be avoided although a lot research remains to be done. Nevertheless, very promising fundamental and clinical results have been obtained over the past decade concerning many visual disorders even in innate conditions. Implicated mechanisms from the retina to the cortex are also better understood. Furthermore, innovative methods to rehabilitate vision are under development.

This research topic aims precisely to review the most recent findings illustrating this dynamic progress, from improved comprehension of visual handicaps to new therapies through medical and technical innovations. A particular emphasis will be put here on studies that make the link between visual handicap, cortical plasticity and rehabilitation, with cortical plasticity (assessed by imaging techniques) resulting from visual disorders itself and/or rehabilitation techniques or therapies. It is indeed the global management of visual handicaps from basic research to clinical treatments and rehabilitation, from the eyes to the brain, which will help to improve the treatment of visual impairment.

As examples, the following subjects will be approached:

• Retinal low vision or blindness and retinal therapies. The use of gene therapy, biotherapies, cell transplants, optogenetic methods or retinal prostheses will be included here, along with the related plasticity in visual cortex and the resulting perceptive performances.
• Total early retinal blindness and compensation through the other senses. This will include for example the cross-modal plasticity that develops in visual cortex through audition and the related inter-modal substitutive devices that are presently under development to help blind people to navigate in space.
• How the knowledge of the molecular mechanisms that subtend plasticity in visual cortex may help to restore vision? This will include for example the mechanisms that open and close the critical period in visual cortex during development.
• Injuries in the visual system beyond the eyes and resulting visual perceptive diseases. Visual handicaps resulting from brain injuries and the use of perceptual learning to rehabilitate vision will be included here.
• Impaired eye movements, cortical plasticity and rehabilitation. This topic might include the case of the perceptive deficits that result from strabismus (such as amblyopia and/or loss of binocular vision) and the use of binocular training and/or trans-cranial brain stimulation to restore vision through cortical plasticity.


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